It can be a tough battle. Traditionally, girls’ education has been considered less important than boys’ education in N’tahaka, and even potentially risky.
`The people in this village used to send only boys to school, she explains. `Many parents worried that if they educated girls, their daughters would become too independent and leave the village. But I’ve spent a lot of time discussing this with them, and parents now have the courage to send their girls to school. They have started to see that women can also study and progress in life, and that the whole of society benefits. Every year more and more girls are coming to school.
It helped, she suggests, to talk about how educating girls could make a real difference to the community. `In this village there are no midwives to help women giving birth, and our local health expert is a man. But the local belief is that no man should ever touch someone else’s wife. So I have helped people to see that if their daughters get an education, they could become midwives and help pregnant women.
Her passion certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed among her pupils. `When you ask the little girls why they come to school, they say: I want to be a school principal, I want to be like Balkissa,’ she smiles. `It makes me want to stay and help their dreams come true.
It’s not only girls that Balkissa is fighting for. Having trained in a large city, she is well aware that education can be affected by where people live. In this part of Mali, most people are pastoralists: nomadic farmers who graze cattle and move regularly to give the land a chance to recover. It’s common, she explains, for children to suddenly stop attending school for several months, as they have moved on with their parents. Many return having `forgotten everything, so Balkissa is involved in projects that enable children to stay with other families while their parents are gone.
`I think it’s an injustice that some children in the towns get an education and others from the villages don’t, she says. `I think there should be equality. I want to see change in the future. We must find a way for everyone to get an education, otherwise I think education can create differences between people.
There is much that Balkissa would like to see change. For starters, the village school has only three teachers for five classes. `We need more trained teachers, she says. âœWe need classrooms. We need updated training for our teachers. And we need guides to help us improve our teaching abilities and do our jobs better. We have all the enthusiasm in the world, but not the means or training to be better teachers. I want the government to prioritise education. With just a little bit of government help, she concludes, `we could do so much more.