Many youngsters who were once Almajiris- students at Quranic schools- have found their way into formal education in Kano State, Northwest Nigeria.
And an incentive by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – cash transfer is to ensure that the students focus on their studies while their well-being is taken care of.
According to UNICEF, 64 per cent of Nigerian children between 0 and five years of age do not attend Early Childhood Education (ECE), which according to the global body, was a critical foundation for all forms of child learning experiences.
How it started
Young Mustapha Sani left home in Ruwan Bago community of Kano State to Kaduna to acquire Qur’anic education in Kaduna with a cleric four years ago. But he is back home with his parents happily.
Before he was sent to Kaduna, the 12-year-old was a student at an Islamic centre under a mallam in his village; his father woke him up one morning and asked him to prepare for the trip that would eventually make him an Almajiri.
Sani dressed up hurriedly, excited but apprehensive.
“I was anxious because I was leaving my parents to a strange environment, but excited at the adventure of seeing a big town and living in it,” said Sani.
Sent back home by COVID-19
The journey of his life, and indeed his story, would later change following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two years ago, while begging for food on the streets of Kaduna one afternoon, Sani and other Almajiris were “arrested” by government officials implementing a lockdown policy to fight the spread of COVID-19 in Kaduna State.
Sani was whisked off to a location where he met scores of children like him.
“We were eventually herded into vehicles which drove us to Kano,” said Sani.
Some days after arriving in Kano, he was eventually taken to Ruwan Bago, his community of origin, where he was first handed over to the Village Head and subsequently reunified with his parents.
“I am not contemplating ever going back to the streets! Life out there is harsh and difficult, living far away from home without your parents,” retorted Sani to a question if he would like to be back to Kaduna.
“Besides, here in Ruwan Bago, I’m still getting my Qur’anic education, and I have also enrolled in a primary school since my return,” volunteered Sani.
Abubakar Garba, 52, head teacher at Ruwan Bago Central Primary School, where Sani is now in Primary Six, confirmed Sani is in school and doing well in class.
“When the Almajiris from this village returned home, I counselled their parents to enrol them in school, and I’m happy they did,” said Garba, the ward head of Ruwan Bago.
“When he came, we examined him and placed him in Basic Four. Our interaction with him revealed he was attending a formal school while learning under his Qur’anic teacher in Kaduna, so it was easy for him to pick up fast,” explained Garba.
Amir Isah, nine, another returnee Almajiri, has enrolled in Basic Four, said Garba, pointing to a smiling child by his side.
Two years ago, Amir Isah, a pupil of Ruwan Bago Central Primary School in Rogo LGA of Kano State, north-west Nigeria, was not in school. He also lived far away from home in his quest to acquire Qur’anic education.
With funding support from UK Natcom, Isah, who is now reunified with his parents, has received cash support from UNICEF and says he’ll use the money to buy books and uniform for school.
To support Almajiri children integrate into, and adjust to life back in their communities, UNICEF, with funding from the UK National Committee, has supported the Kano State government in implementing a cash transfer programme targeting 1,258 returnees Almajiris located in 37 Local Government Areas (LGAs) out of the total of 44 of the state.
“While the cash transfer programme is not conditional, our objective is that the beneficiary families will use the funds to support the well-being of children, including their education and protection within the family,” said Ms Emelia Allan, a Child Protection Manager at the Kano Field Office of UNICEF.
Allan says that in partnership with the state government, UNICEF continues to collaborate with traditional and religious leaders to identify, validate and reunify Almajiris with their parents.