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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
The Girl Who Wouldn’t Take No for an Answer
August 28, 2007
By The IRC
|Photo: The IRC|
|As peace settles in Liberia, the IRC is helping refugees return home and revitalize their communities. Rebuilding Liberia’s education system is an extremely important first step on a long road to recovery. After 15 years of civil war, the future looks daunting: 70% of Liberians are illiterate. 85% are unemployed. The population is young — 55% of Liberians are under age 25 — but half of all school age children aren’t receiving an education. One of the challenges Liberian teachers face is how to help older students whose education was interrupted by the war—or who never had a chance to go to school at all—gain the skills they need to support themselves. Teacher Fertiku Harris, who’s now an IRC education manager in northwestern Liberia, shares this recollection of a teenager named Hajah whose drive to learn was so strong she wasn’t afraid to start at the very beginning—in preschool: Due to the civil war in Liberia, Hajah, a teenaged girl, fled with her family to Guinea in 1990. Despite being much older and uneducated, Hajah overcame many obstacles and received an education through the IRC. Previously Hajah never had any formal education. As part of her family’s religious beliefs, only boys were allowed to go to school. In the Lola refugee camp, Hajah’s mother built a small restaurant in a hut to support the family. Hajah was her mother’s main helper. To earn more money Hajah regularly took food to sell at the Lola Refugee School. Hajah’s frequent visits to the school piqued her interest in education. She admired the teachers. She stopped by the ABC class, which was for the youngest children, to observe. After class, Hajah would ask the children to teach her the alphabet. To encourage the children to teach her, Hajah offered them free food. Hajah began to spend more time studying the alphabet. This did not please her mother, who expected more money. Hajah’s mother complained that Hajah was not putting in enough time helping. One day, two of my friends and I were eating in Hajah mother’s restaurant, when Hajah brought us a small paper and asked us to drill her on the letters E to O. That was what the children gave her to practice reading and recognizing. While I started to help, her mother shouted, ‘Hajah! Come here. You don’t work anymore. Come and serve the people!’ Hajah quickly heeded her mother, and didn’t have the chance to come back for the drill. The next day Hajah left to sell food at school, and this time she entered and sat with the ABC children in class. At 15, Hajah was much taller and bigger than the other students. We offered to allow Hajah to go to school for free. One of the female teachers followed up with Hajah’s mother who argued that Hajah could not accept. The mother said she needed Hajah to help with work. Hajah insisted that she wanted to go to school, and promised her mother that she would continue to help with the work before and after school. After much persuasion, Hajah’s mother finally agreed. Hajah began school in the ABC class in 1992 at the Lola Refugee School. At first some of the students in different grade levels made fun of Hajah, but she ignored them and soon won them over. Hajah became part of the school family. Hajah took her education seriously. Her eagerness to learn and to make up for lost time allowed her to move ahead quickly. She skipped grades on two occasions and eventually graduated from high school in 2003, when she was 26. Later Hajah got the opportunity to continue her education when she was resettled in the United States by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Hajah is a shining example of how an overlooked child can succeed with educational opportunities—the same opportunities the IRC is offering to more and more Liberians today.|