Poverty: Thorn in the flesh for Geita girls’ education
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Vumilia Sprain poses for a photo shortly after the interview with the ‘Sunday News,’ recently.

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LIVING one’s dream is every child’s expectation. But, it is unfortunate that many school children painfully and hapless watch as their dreams vanish into thin air due to circumstances beyond their control.

And this is fast becoming true for Vumilia Sprian a fourteen-year-old Standard Six pupil at Ukombozi Primary School, whose academic journey is likely to be cut short and nothing save for a miracle is likely to turn the tables in her favour.

Despite being a bright child, scoring good marks and working hard to become a nurse, she is likely to find herself being trapped by the vicious circle of poverty that has been gripping her family as plans are afoot to marry her off soon after finishing her Standard Seven, next year.

This is regardless of the grades she will get.

“I want to become a nurse after school that is why I am working hard to join secondary school, hoping to graduate and go to a college,” said Vumilia.

Her father, Mr Spirian Pyamungu, a resident of Nyakumbu Ward, Geita District, does not see anything wrong with cutting his daughter’s education short, as long as he benefits.

He believes that it is better giving his daughter away in marriage, to rescue his family out of the jaws of poverty than to spend the little he has in buying school uniforms, textbooks, pens and food to keep his last born girl in school.

Pyamungu, an artisan at Mbugani Village in Nyakumbu Ward, Geita District, revealed that his family has no resources and sources of income, saying they survive on hand to mouth and are as poor as church mice, to the extent of failing to afford their daughter the opportunity to join secondary school come 2019.

“We are expecting her to be free for marriage as soon as she stops going to school. We have nothing to do with her here at home, once she completes Standard Seven in 2018,” asserts Mr Pyamungu.

He declares that the family is currently struggling in vain to toil and get school items, such as textbooks, pens, uniforms and other materials. And to make matters worse, he said he cannot even afford food for his daughter during break and lunch at school. “We are struggling to provide her food, school uniforms, textbooks and other requirements.

But, once she is married, we will have one less person to feed and clothe,” the father of a family of four children and a single wife, said.

Mr Pyamungu adds that he has been battling poverty for a long time to the extent of failing to provide resources to keep his four children in school. “I have four children including Vumi (Vumilia) who is my last born.

But, I have never managed educate them beyond Standard Seven. None of them has ever joined secondary school. I don’t have resources for school fees and other required materials,” he adds.

A 2017 report on ‘Child Marriage in Tanzania at a Glance’ indicates that poverty is the biggest factor that drives child marriages across all regions in the country.

The report reveals that economically disadvantaged families often struggle to provide food and clothing for their children, let alone fees or other costs related to keeping them in school.

As a result, many resort to marrying-off their daughters as a means of ‘protecting’ them economically and socially. Not only do families have one less mouth to feed, but upon her marriage a bride price is paid to the girl’s family, often as cattle or in cash and is a source of much needed income.

The report summarises findings from the ‘National Survey on the Drivers and Consequences of Child Marriage in Tanzania,’ conducted in 2016, by Research on Poverty Alleviation, REPOA in collaboration with the Children’s Dignity Forum, Plan International, Foundation for Women Health Research and Development (FORWARD) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The study is based on data collected in 10 regions representing high, average and low prevalence rates of child marriages. The data comprises a household survey with 3,299 study participants, 199 in-depth key informant interviews, and focus group discussions with 190 participants.

Also, a 2017 report by Human Rights Watch: ‘I had a dream to Finish School Barriers to Secondary Education in Tanzania,’ indicates that many poorest children in the country are still unable to attend school because of other related costs after the abolition of school fees in primary and secondary schools.

All hopes not lost for Vumilia Though Vumilia is aware of her father’s intended shenanigans and plans to marrying her off, she has not lost. With faith that a miracle will happen in her life, she continues to work hard at school so that she gets good results, come next year. “I am aware of my father’s plans to marry me off, but I have not yet made up my mind about his plans.

I would love to lead a good life in the future. So, I am not ready to get married,” she said as she prays for a break through that will see her live her dream.

“If the worst comes to the worst and I fail to proceed to secondary school after completing Standard Seven, I would love to go for training in areas such as tailoring. I don’t want to get married because I will suffer more.

I have seen my sister, who got married at a young age suffer a lot and it’s because she did not finish school to acquire a job to help her earn a living,” she laments and adds, “I don’t like the kind of life my sister is living now.”

According to her school academic record, Vumilia is ranked between 35 and 40 out of 200 pupils in her class. Teachers at Ukombozi School see her as ‘hardworking pupil who has passion’ to do well amongst girls in Standard Six, at the school. “She performs averagely in her academics but if given the chance I hope she can do even better,” says one of the female teachers at Ukombozi. Lack of school materials is one among the main factors that hinders Vumilia’s academic performance.

“She sometimes goes missing at school due to reasons related to lack of school materials, but she always copes up…she is a hardworking girl indeed if given a conducive learning environment, she can do better academically,” says her teacher. Like Vumilia, majority of girls in Geita District hail from poor families that find it difficult to help them pursue and chase their dreams.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), when women are provided with equal rights and equal access to education, they contribute a lot in business and economic activities.

Education also empowers a woman’s wallet through boosting her earning capabilities. A single year of primary education increases a girl’s wages later in life by 20 per cent. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) also soars when women are provided with equal rights and equal access to education opportunities.

According to UNESCO, when 10 per cent more women attend school, GDP increases by three per cent on average. A Community-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), New Light Children’s Centre Organisation (NELICO), in Geita District, says that thousands of adolescent girls are not in school due to poverty among their families.

“Many adolescent girls are at home helping their families with household chores and learning how to keep the family instead of being in schools.

The main challenge being poverty,” the Project Manager on Ending Child Marriage in Geita District, Ms Devota Albinus, said. She added that girls in Geita are married at the ages of between 11 and 15 through forced marriages.

The marriages are mostly staged by poor families on the bases of foregoing high costs of education. Even as the free education leads to more girls’ enrollment in schools, the majority of teachers interviewed in Geita say chances of girls dropping-out of schools continue to be greater than boys.

“Girls are excluded or withdrawn from school for poverty-based reasons. Many say that they are unable to provide school materials such as uniforms and other requirements,” says one Katimbi John, a senior teacher in Geita.

The ‘Sunday News’ survey, in the district found out that despite poverty, many families are ignorant over the importance of education due to social taboos that undermine girls’ right to education. He said that parents believe that girls’ contribution to the household have more value than their education and thus resolve to leave their girls fetching water, taking care of their young siblings, cooking and cleaning to eventually get married.

Most of the communities in the area depend on small-scale mining in the district, which is the major source of wealth creation with accumulation of investments on gold products, availing an opportunity for people to better their livelihoods, hence reducing vulnerability among girls.

According to Plan International, 62 million girls around the world are not in school with poverty being the main barrier at the heart of many challenges that hinder girls’ access to education.

On November 2015, the government issued Circular Five, which implements the education and training policy of 2014, directing public bodies to ensure primary and secondary education is free for all children.

But, despite the provision of free education, parents continue to cry foul and remain adamant, sticking to their outdated cultural norms and values that a girl child is a source of income through marriage hence pointless to educate her.

It is important that the government and NGOs continue to put in place deterrent measures that will force parents to keep their children in school for the betterment of the country.

Failure, to do that, many girls’ dreams, just like Vumila’s, will continue being cut short and wallowing in the vicious cycle of poverty.

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