UNICEF education staff share their stories
NEW YORK, 4 January 2012 – We asked UNICEF education staff around the globe to tell us about their most inspiring moment they experienced in 2011. Something that they would not forget and reminded them why they chose this profession. Here are some of their stories.
It was overcast and rather chilly on Saturday, 26 November, the day of the Children’s Race at the Addis Ababa Stadium. The stadium was alive with excitement; it was a day for children to enjoy themselves.
The final event of the day was a 200-metre race for girls and boys with disabilities. The last two runners were the ones that caught my attention. The second last was a child in a wheelchair, whose teacher was pushing him toward the finish line. The last one was a girl with one leg balancing on a crutch and hopping steadily – with a caregiver/teacher just a few metres away to give support.
About 20 metres from the finish line, she hesitated and stopped, exhausted and seemingly ready to give up. The crowd wasn’t sure how to react. I shouted, “Go girl, go!” but in my head I prayed that she would not give up. After hesitating for a few moments, she managed to regain her composure and hop steadily towards the finish line. With the crowd cheering her on, and children clapping and dancing, the girl won the race.
Afterwards, she told us, “To tell the truth I was scared at the beginning. I was not completely sure that I could do this… But the crowd gave me moral support. There was clapping and shouting to encourage me to continue and finish the race. It makes me believe that if one tries, disability cannot stop one from accomplishing what he or she wants.”
I was filled with pride that I was part of the UNICEF team that gave these children an opportunity to feel “ordinary,” and also be accorded the opportunity of doing what other children do.
Dr. Vijitha M. Eyango
Chief of Education
Dembo is a multi-grade school hosting a significant number of refugees from the Central African Republic. The first time I went three was in November 2010, where I witnessed first-hand the resilience of a determined school principal and teacher and the local population as they hosted the refugee children sharing their precious school space.
Visualize a school comprised of one multi-grade classroom with only two teachers (one of whom also served as school principal) divided into six discrete classes. The refugee students accounted for almost 40 per cent of the students enrolled. Instead of seeing anger, frustration and resentment – as one might expect when a poor and vulnerable local population is forced to share their small cramped school, materials and teachers with refugee students – I saw harmony, community engagement and resilience.
Fast-forward to April this year, when we launched the Cameroon chapter of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative in this very school – our “School of Hope” – which now boasted new classrooms and a water station.
My most inspirational moment was watching the Minister of Education, U.S. ambassador, and UNICEF Representative walking towards the podium amid that same sea of faces I’d seen the previous year. Faces of resilience had been transformed to faces of joy and hope for a better future. The journey wasn’t easy but the result made it all so worthwhile.
Chief Basic Education and Gender Equality
“This is the first time in my life that I have a full set of textbooks.” – Hearing this from orphans and other children in Zimbabwe has provided me with great inspiration, courage and faith in what I can do for children who cannot even afford to hope.
Through the Education Transition Fund, a $50 million project for development partners to support the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and partners provided more than 21 million textbooks and stationary to all primary and secondary school children.
Now working in Sudan, I received a message from a former colleague: “Today was a great day – the start of distribution of secondary school books. The Prime Minister spoke of how children with absolutely nothing, not even shoes, now have a full set of textbooks! The Education Minister specifically mentioned you, thanking you in absentia for the amazing work you did and for having started such an amazing programme.” This is one of my most precious memories. For me, working for UNICEF is fulfilling professionally but also personalally; it provides me with the opportunity to help the voiceless. I feel so thankful to UNICEF, its mandate, vision and credibility that provided me with the opportunity to contribute to such amazing results. Together we contributed to ensuring that primary and secondary school children in Zimbabwe will have access to textbooks for the next 3 to5 years.
Amina H. Ibrahim
From 1990 to2006, less than five girls from all ten girls’ secondary schools in the North Eastern Province of Kenya qualified to join university. The equity gap was severe in both secondary and higher education for women from nomadic communities. UNICEF and its partners came up with a girls’ scholarship program which increased the number of girls attending university and give them confidence and aspirations for the future. The scholarship program addressed the decades-long gap in higher education for girls and women in the nomadic communities.
The success of this program led to the birth of Northern Kenya Education Trust (NoKET) – a program that institutionalized scholarships for nomadic children. Launched in November 2011, NoKET is scaling up advocacy efforts and lobbying to reduce disparities in secondary education. Lessons and technical knowledge from Kenya were also shared with the UNICEF office in Somalia, where a similar girls’ scholarship program was developed in Somaliland and Puntland.
I feel blessed, proud and humbled to be part of UNICEF family and experience the birth of NoKET, a program that will changes the lives of many excluded girls for many more years to come!