“The day I joined my SOS family is still vivid in my mind. I remember walking behind the social worker as she led me the house,” says Rayowa. “These were the most frightening steps of my life. People in my village often said that those who lived in the city did evil things. So I thought my life was in danger. But the opposite turned out to be true, I was received with many smiles and hugs,” she says.
Rayowa’s case was brought SOS Children’s Villages in Jos, Nigeria, through the social welfare department. After her mother died, she was left in the care of her grandmother. And even though the grandmother loved taking care of the child, she could barely meet her basic needs without an income, so Rayowa dropped out of school when she was in Grade 1. With no one in the extended family willing to assist, alternative care was sought out. Rayowa was in poor health when she first arrived at the SOS Village. The first priority was nutritious food and to enable her to be back in school.
A few days after settling into her new home, Rayowa received new uniform and school supplies. She was then enrolled into Grade 1 in the nearby school.
“That was the happiest day of my life. It is the day I got my life back, the day my future was firmly secured. My only setback was that I was 12 years old, and my classmates were half my age. And because of staying out of school for five years, I struggled to catch up.
“After school my mother and I sat and talked about what I had learned that day, and what I thought about school. To me, it was an interesting experience and I was excited to share with her, and bond with her at the same time. She would always ask to see my books after dinner, to see how I was doing. She would coach me in areas I had difficulty with, and if it was a subject that she couldn’t handle, my mother would find someone who had the answer. Today, I am a good student, I am passionate about learning. My best subject is mathematics,” adds Rayowa.
Rayowa’s SOS mother admits that helping Rayowa adjust to returning to school wasn’t always easy. “My initial concern for Rayowa was that she thought her classmates were her age mates,” says SOS mother Ali. “She always wanted to play with them. This would have affected her mental development maturity. I constantly reminded her to befriend children her age. I also regularly talked to my younger children to regard Rayowa as their elder sister, and not as their age mate.
“I relentlessly encouraged her to never give up on herself. I spent more time than usual going through her school work, and tutoring her where I could. I encouraged her teachers to offer her extra lessons so she could catch up with her peers. I made sure her siblings supported her and respected her as the eldest in the house. Gradually, she got the cooperation of her siblings and she settled in well. Rayowa was willing to learn, so teaching her was a lot easier. So far her self-confidence has improved, she can now communicate well in English and is improving steadily in school.”
“School makes more meaning to me now than when I lived with my grandmother,” says Rayowa. “I am proud of myself because I can speak, read and write in English. I can also cook a variety of local meals. I have been given an opportunity to go to school and chance to become independent and successful in future.”
SOS mother Ali says all the children have grown to love Rayowa because she plays “mother” whenever she is not around. They have grown to depend on her support.
“Rayowa is the eldest in our home,” says Mercy. “We both like to play puzzle games in the house. But the most interesting times are when she invites me to the kitchen to see her cooking,” she says.
Rayowa is one of many children in Nigeria born from teenage pregnancy. SOS Children’s Villages is working with teenagers in Nigeria to build better awareness and knowledge around how to take care of themselves, sexually. In Nigeria, it is common for men to deny responsibility of a pregnancy, leaving the girl to carry the burden alone. “Children born out of wedlock are frowned upon in this society, they are considered a curse and a bad omen. So most people, even close relatives do not like to associate with such children,” remarks Mr. Glory the Village Director of SOS Children’s Village Jos. “Other contributing factors to loss of parental care include insurgency/ terrorist attacks, rape, and abandonment due to economic hardship. Sometimes health challenges also contribute to this phenomenon,” he says.
Even though Rayowa will never be of the same age as her classmates, she has learnt to be at peace with who she is. At 16 years old, she is in Grade 5 and is studying hard. She is also a good athlete. She has represented her school in numerous track and field events.
“My interest is in hairdressing,” says Rayowa. “When the time is right, I will proceed to this next phase of my life. I will soon be independent and be able to stand on my own.”
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the child.