Overcoming displacement and claiming her right to education: Zainab’s story

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A group of teenage girls gather around small wooden desks in a makeshift classroom in Nyarugusu refugee camp in northern Tanzania. The thin canvas walls of the tent ripple as excited chatter and laughter fill the room. Seventeen-year-old Zainab calls the club meeting to order and begins to lead her peers in a series of games and activities. As they play, they pause periodically to reflect on the challenges of camp life, and the pressures of being a girl.

Since 2015, more than 400,000 refugees have fled civil unrest in Burundi for camps in Tanzania. Girls in these camps face significant barriers to quality education. A lack of female teachers, appropriate latrines, and menstrual hygiene supplies combine with fears of sexual violence and gender-based discrimination to keep nearly half of girls out of school.

“I like that I get to meet regularly with other girls. We discuss our challenges and, through games, learn how to overcome them.” — Zainab

Drawing on our extensive experience working with refugee communities, Right To Play has started Gender Equality Clubs across Nyarugusu that offer girls the support they need to overcome these challenges and achieve their academic goals. In these weekly club meetings, Zainab and her peers talk about the issues that affect their lives, develop life and leadership skills, and encourage each other to claim their rights.

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Finding Support and Helping Others

Zainab has been living in Nyarugusu since 2015, when her parents fled Burundi to keep her and her younger sister and her brothers safe. When her mother heard about the after-school Gender Equality Club that was starting in their section of the camp, and she encouraged Zainab to join.

“Through the education I got from club teachers, I’m able to help other pupils who experience the same challenge that I experienced before.” — Zainab

Since the clubs launched in December 2020, more than 240 girls have attended weekly meetings. They’re safe and inclusive spaces where the girls can process and talk about their feelings and the challenges they face. Zainab says many girls in the club struggled after they hit puberty, often finding themselves in awkward situations at school, where appropriate hygiene facilities are rare. Through the club, Zainab and her friends have learned how to manage menstruation and advocate for better support and facilities so menstruation doesn’t get in the way of their ability to pursue their education. “Before I had knowledge of menstrual hygiene management, I used to experience so many challenges at school. Through the education I got from club teachers, I’m able to help other pupils who experience the same challenge that I experienced before.”

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Through Gender Equality Clubs, Zainab and her peers learn leadership and life skills by taking turns leading meetings, games and discussions.

Looking To the Future

The Gender Equality Clubs are an important part of the My Education, My Future project, which is improving access to education for more than 48,000 girls and children with disabilities in refugee camps in Tanzania and returnee communities in Burundi.

For Zainab, this support means that she has the freedom to dream about her future. “When a girl is able to go to school, she is able to make decisions about her life and plan for her future. Without an education, she may have no choice but to be married and become dependent on her husband. My hope is to continue studying so that I can help other girls stay in school and accomplish their goals for the future.”

My Education, My Future is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. Working in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council, the project improves access to and the quality of education for primary school-aged children affected by the Burundian refugee crisis by building their life skills, resilience, and social cohesion.

“My hope is to continue studying so that I can help other girls stay in school and accomplish their goals for the future.” — Zainab