Monrovia - In Monrovia’s biggest slum community of West point, many girls might not attend school this year, though there has been a clamor for the government to reopen schools after the long break caused by the deadly Ebola epidemic. Siah Saah, 15, has never been to school before but said she wanted to go this year. She feels she has lost every opportunity of a bright future because of being so young and having a two-month-old baby.
In an interview with FrontPage Africa, Saah said she had lived with her uncle in Matadi since her mother sent her to the city from Lofa. She has said since her arrival she had not been able to enroll in school because her uncle has not sent her. Said Saah: “Each time I tell my uncle to put me in school, he will tell me, ‘wait for the second semester’ and when first semester comes, he will say wait second semester. That’s how he left doing and he did not put me in school.”
She said just a year ago, she left her uncle and moved to West Point with her mother. She said her mother had planned to register her in a special school to learn a trade. She was able to enroll in a tailoring school learning how to sew for a living. Saah said her tailoring classes were progressing, but when Ebola erupted, everything stalled. She said though she attends the tailoring school, she wants a regular school where she can learn how to read and write, but her mother thinks she is too old for regular school.
Said Saah; “When I told my mother about school, she said over and over again that I must go to tailoring school. But for me, I want to go to school, even I fifteen, I will not be shame to learn, but each time, or my mother will say she doesn’t have money to send me to school.” She said she had no choice and became pregnant because there was no example she could follow. She said at age 15, with a child makes it even more difficult to focus on school and does not know how to stop herself from getting pregnant with the second baby.
“Since I did not know how to stop myself from getting pregnant, the boy I met when I was still at the tailoring shop, started loving and he even told me he wanted to marry me and my mother said that since I am not in school, he should pay my dairy, that's how we let doing it until I got pregnant,” Saah said.
She said after she got pregnant; she and the boyfriend could no longer get along and after giving birth, they split up. She said she wants to go back to school to stop avoid getting pregnant again. “Since this year I can’t go to school, when my child walk I will surely go to school to learn,” she said. Odell is Saah’s oldest sister, who also cannot go back to school this year because her mother has no money for her school fees.
Odell, 18 was enrolled at a High School in Monrovia in the eighth grade, when Ebola struck. She said she is not returning to the same school this year, because of what she termed as some teachers collecting money from students to offer them passing grades. “I don’t want to go back to school because the Teachers can hold money from students to pass them and when you see that in any school, that school is not a good school,” she said. “And another thing is that the teachers will tell you they want you, when you refused they fail you.”
Odell said she wants to attend the Assembly God Mission (AGM) School on Buchanan Street, but cannot afford fourteen thousand Liberian dollars for the whole year. Odell also has a daughter at the age 15 and is obligated also to take care of her daughter. Just like Saah, Odell says she knows of so many of her friends who are pregnant and will not have the chance to return to school this year.
Statistics provided by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her annual address, shows that there were 5, 181 schools (3074 public and 2107 private with enrollment at 1, 500,000 students, boys accounting for 800,000 and girls at 700,000 in 2013, but the possibility exists that enrollment for girls could drop this year. The President also promised financial inducement for girls beginning next year to help them pledge to stay in school until the completion of high school. Many girls like Saah and her friends now have a hope for a future in education with the President’s promise.