The Women Literacy Programme is designed to support and provide an opportunity for adult women in both urban and rural communities to boost their literacy skills.

Damiete Braide

Hadiza Isma El-Rufai believes the health of the girl-child in Nigeria would improve once violators of the law are brought to justice.

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As the initiator of the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation, she believes in the adage that, when you educate a woman, you educate a nation. With her Women Literacy Programme targeted at women, she reiterates that literacy is a great empowerment tool for the improvement of their lives.

El-Rufai told Daily Sun that even after her husband leaves office as Governor of Kaduna State, her pet project would continue because it is a job that she wants to do for the rest of her life.

El-Rufai, whose book, “An Abundance of Scorpions,” was launched recently, explained that she has portrayed northern Muslim culture through her work.

In this interview, she speaks on her pet project, women’s literacy, and failed parenting in society, among other issues.

Could this be another case of much noise and little impact, which is the case of most First Ladies’ projects?

Many First Ladies are doing good works that impact positively on the society. But I do not regard Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation as a First Lady’s pet project. I started this foundation in 2013, two years before my husband became a governor, and I, by extension, became a First Lady. I will continue this work even after my husband leaves office. At the foundation, we have short, medium and long-term plans. This work is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Tell us more about your initiative

I started the foundation in 2013 in memory of my daughter. The Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation (YELF) is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organisation that is committed to awakening and nurturing creativity in children through the provision of relevant platforms and initiatives, as well as improving the literacy skills of young women by providing learning support.

At the foundation, we envision a society where all children can develop their creative potential, and where every young woman is given the opportunity of improving her life prospects through the enhancement of her literacy skills.

We have two main programmes: The Creative Writing Programme (CWP) and the Women Literacy Programme (WLP).

The CWP is a platform developed to stimulate the creative abilities of children in school through a number of well-conceived intra and inter-club and school activities, with the hope of providing childhood experiences crucial to the development of creative potential. We establish and nurture creative writing clubs across some secondary schools in Kaduna North and Kaduna South local government areas.

The WLP is designed to support and provide an opportunity for adult women in both urban and rural communities to boost their literacy skills. The programme focuses mainly on young adult women (15 to 30 years) who have either dropped out of school as a result of marriage, childbirth, lack of finance, etc. The programme establishes adult literacy classes within some selected communities. An interesting aspect is that it emphasises and ensures community involvement and ownership. Tutors come from the respective communities.

What are the keys to attaining a sustainable environment for the girl-child?

Education is one veritable weapon that can be used to provide a conducive sustainable environment for the girl-child. Cultural practices that discriminate against the girl-child should be jettisoned. When people are educated, they are able to think and discern things for themselves. They realise that not all cultural practices are positive.

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Is the empowerment for women also part of the goals of your initiative?

Definitely. That is why we have the Women Literacy Programme. That programme is targeted at women specifically. Literacy is a great empowerment tool.

How does failed parenting jeopardise the prospects of the girl-child in life?

Good parenting is very important for all children but for the girl-child in particular, it can make a huge difference in her life prospects. Female children in a family should be valued just as much as the male. They should be provided with the same opportunities, especially when it comes to education. If this is not done, the girl-child is put at a great disadvantage.

What do you think of the trend whereby most NGOs pay lip service to issues of the girl-child, except during anniversaries?

That is not how it should be. It is important to mark the anniversaries in order to keep raising awareness about the plight of the girl-child. However, issues concerning the girl-child should be attended to throughout the year.

What is your NGO doing differently concerning the girl-child?

Our organisation is not one that deals with issues of the girl-child per se. The CWP is for both boys and girls. Through that we hope to have a positive impact in the lives of the girls we engage with.

The Women Literacy Programme is for young women between the ages of 15 and 30. The programme teaches them literacy and numeracy to prepare them for whatever they intend to do in the future.

With hundreds of people killed every day and Nigeria slowly retrogressing to the dark ages, what is the fate of the girl-child?

You paint a very gloomy picture. It is true that we have serious challenges in the country but there are good things being done, too. I am hopeful that, at the end of the day, the life of the girl-child will improve tremendously. We just have to ensure that the rule of law prevails in cases where people violate the rights of the girl-child. Anyone that breaks the law should be prosecuted.

Despite your busy schedule, how do you find time to write and when is your best time to write?

It is sometimes very difficult for me to find the time to write, but I try to divide my time between my duties at the foundation, the few things I do as a First Lady and my writing. My best time to write is early in the morning. That time my brain is fresh.

What inspired your book, “An Abundance of Scorpions;” what did you set out to achieve?

While there is an abundance of Hausa language fiction that is published in Northern Nigeria, there is a scarcity of literature in the English language from that region. Most of the stories written about Nigeria in English are from the perspective of our southern brothers and sisters. I wanted to write a story that would showcase northern Muslim culture. I hope I succeeded in giving those that may not know an insight into this life and culture. At the end of the day, what I wanted to achieve was to show that we are not that different after all.

READ ALSO: Hadiza El-Rufai: Writing is therapeutic

What is the criteria for selecting and helping vulnerable young girls whose parents do not have the financial capability to send their wards to school?

We work with community leaders in each of the locations we operate in. They are the ones that recommend the young ladies that benefit from our Women Literacy Programme. We select those who have had to drop out of school for one reason or the other.

We do not deal with women that have never been to school.

How do you monitor the academic performance of the girls in order for your foundation to continue sponsoring their education?

We do not continue to sponsor their education. Our focus is not on academic performance or certificates. After all, there are so many graduates today roaming the streets looking for jobs. Our goal is to equip these young ladies with what they need to make a decent living. And literacy is key.

Today, there is so much free knowledge out on the Internet but you have to know how to access the information in order to tap into this vast world of knowledge. After they graduate from the programme, we sponsor them to learn one of the following skills, catering, baking and menu planning, poultry production and marketing, fishery production and marketing and cosmetology.

Everyone is required to do a second course: financial planning and management for business. We do not teach these skills directly but collaborate with organisations that do.