Issoufou’s family lives far from school. His village, Tchilizdag, has a struggling elementary school with rapid staff turnover and poor oversight. Many parents are frustrated — they are interested in sending their children to school, but there are few success stories. Even in this environment, Issoufou has succeeded academically. This is truly a testament to Issoufou’s desire to learn because he has also needed to overcome his physical handicaps – he has a hunchback and disabled left foot.
With his condition, the distance (25km) may have kept his parents from sending him away for middle school, but knowing that Issoufou has a homestay and support system, the family was happy for him to continue to middle school. Issoufou, now a 7th grade student, says he is “very happy to have a home-stay that helped me to study in middle school this year.” This is an exciting opportunity for Issoufou whose parents “do what they can to earn money but… are very poor. They try to work in other people’s gardens or herd goats for neighbors for small payments.”
They are hoping Issoufou will have more options than they do.
Issoufou faced an additional challenge this term. Throughout his schooling, a close friend had always carried his books and defended Issoufou from unkind peers. When his friend abandoned school, Issoufou threatened to abandon school as well. He felt abandoned and worried that the other children would not treat him well. His parents, the local marabout, and his mentor were able to convince him to stay in school.
Issoufou’s ability to attend school will determine his ability to provide for himself in the future. Traditionally, those with physical handicaps were left to beg – being unable to participate in Niger’s economy, which relied heavily on manual labor. Going to school gives Issoufou opportunities beyond that. The ability to pursue an education shows Issoufou, his peers, and others in his community that school and the knowledge acquired there is more than theoretical, it can be practical. It can be a means to survive.