A lesson in rights

By Chris Hufstader

The Basembo Diandy primary school in the Leona district of Ziguinchor was designed for about 700 students. It surpassed that enrollment 10 years ago. Refugees and displaced people from the war and increased demand for education have filled the school to bursting. There are now over 1,130 students, up 15 percent from just two years ago. Many of the new students are from Guinea Bissau—and they don't speak French or the local language Diola.

Mamadou Diedhiou, the school's director, takes the high enrollment as a compliment. "Our school district has one of the highest levels of attendance in the country," he says proudly. "And we are building schools all the time."

Four of Diedhiou's teachers have been using the Oxfam-funded GRA-REDEP peace education curriculum for the last three years, and others are learning about it and integrating it into their classes also. The teachers are seeing a real difference in the behavior of the students at Basembo Diandy: fewer fights, more tolerance, and more engagement with the faculty on school issues. The students understand what it is to be a citizen, says Pathé Diatta, one of the teachers. "When we used to raise the flag here most students weren't interested,"" he said in the school library. "But after we taught them about citizenship, they attend the flag raising every morning."

Citizens enjoy certain rights, and this is a key lesson taught in Professor Djibril Faye's class, held in one of the concrete block buildings, where there is a charcoal outline of the African continent on the back wall. The students, roughly 40 kids between 10 and 15, can name their basic rights: the right to live in peace, the right to medical care, the right to food.

And then the big one comes up: the right to an education. The discussion revolves around why some families don't let their girls go to school, just the boys. Many students don't understand the issue completely. When asked for reasons why a father might not allow a daughter to attend school, some think it might be because there is no money for clothing, transportation, or school fees.

But that is not it. Professor Faye wants them to discover the gender dimension of this human rights issue—a basic injustice based on the roles society imposes on females. "Maybe the father wants his daughter to work around the house, so when she gets married she will know what to do," one boy suggests. The unfairness comes out clearly to the students. Now they see why girls might be more likely to be kept home from school—a violation of their right to an education.

Seynabou Sène, a slim 13-year-old student, took the lesson to heart. "Girls need to go to school," she said after the class. "If my father told me I could not go to school, I would force him to take me so I can have a better future. I want to be a teacher."

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