15-year old Kehinde and Taiwo are twin girls in Lagos who are struggling to finish their secondary school education. Their mother finished school herself and wanted the same for them, but their dreams were dashed after she fell ill and passed away. So far their father has been unable to keep them in school after he lost his job. Now they grind peppers 12 hours a day and take care of their family.

Their story which is told in a documentary supported by The Malala Fund illustrates the issues with public education not reaching slum communities as they were turned away from the private school within walking distance for lack of fees.

In an interview with Ijeoma Ndukwe, the Nigerian filmmaker and journalist shares her experience working on the set of this short film, the process of selecting girls to profile and what she is passionate about when it comes to girl child education and the future of Africa.

Ventures Africa (VA): Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ijeoma Ndukwe (IN): I am a trained journalist who studied English literature at the university as a first degree. After several years of travelling, I have lived in Spain, the US, and I came back to the UK, spent some time in Scotland where I got into production and then after a couple of years in production I started working in a news room as a news desk producers. Few years after doing that, I went back to school to do masters in international journalism where I specialized in investigative journalism. From there, I started doing from short investigative reports to long reform programs, and panoramas. Also, from there I started working on Africa focus, and being a business journalist for Bloomberg and then a couple of years ago, I came to Nigeria with CNN to produce a show called African voices. Shortly after that, I went back to news and business for the BBC which is what I predominantly do now. So far, I’ve been working as a journalist for ten years now and I think initially I wanted to be a writer which is why I studied English literature. I actually saw myself more in the newspaper, like print journalism. But I fell into production and I loved working in TV and visual storytelling. Right now I am doing the type of work that I love to do and that is telling stories, and writing about the African continent which I think is very fresh and interesting terrain. It feels very much like an unexplored territory, so it’s a very interesting region to cover.

VA: Kindly share how you came to be involved in this project?

Ijeoma Ndukwe (IN): I was initially approached by the fuller project for international reporting; they are an organization that deals with women issues, particularly women in education, and they wanted to find a girl in Nigeria who was struggling to get an education. They had done previous projects that were sponsored by the Malala fund and was looking at how girls around the world were struggling for an education. One of such projects was a story about a Syrian refugee girl who was living in Turkey and working in a garment factory. The story was about how she was unable to continue her education when she arrived in Syria.

VA: Were there any metrics used to select the subjects for the video?

IN: There was quite a broad scope because we weren’t given any specific guidelines apart from that we wanted a girl who was in a situation where maybe she was pursuing her education with some difficulty or was unable to.

Initially, we were thinking of speaking to girls who were domestic help in Nigeria. This is because it’s very common here in the country for people to hire very young ladies, sometimes girls, because education is so expensive, in exchange for them to work in the confines of the house. The host family might actually provide and pay the fees for the girl’s education. That is quite common here and so initially we thought it might be interesting to speak to a girl who is in that situation but unfortunately, we weren’t able to find anybody in the Lagos area who is strong and able to tell that story. It was still a very important story that needed to be discussed for a number of reasons but I spoke to girls all over the country, in the north-east, for example, I spoke to girls who were living in IDP camps and were travelling long distances to go to school every day. I also spoke to girls who just didn’t have the finances, the economic difficulty is one of the major reasons why a lot of girls are not able to go to school, and they just simply don’t have the finances. There were girls who are pulled out of school and have to sell things on the street for months to raise the funds to send themselves back to school, and their parents for whatever reasons may have some financial difficulty and are unable to send the girl to school; which was the case that we found in the story that we specifically looked at for this project.

VA: What were some of the challenges you faced during the selection process?

IN: I must say that there are a number of constraints and certain parameters that we were working within so there was a budget. Perhaps if we had a larger budget, we would have been able to travel further in the field. For example for the girls I spoke to in North east, there were safety issues, insurance to cover us to go and film there, whether we had permits to go and film inside the IDP camps, that was something that we had to look at and then timing as well because perhaps we could have gone there but we had to turn around this film within such a small time frame so having the time to actually travel there and film was an issue. Language as well was another constraint that we had. Because of the lack of time we had we weren’t able to get someone who spoke the language. We needed somebody who spoke English well, we just didn’t have the time to get a translator, not only would we have needed a translator to accompany us to do the interview, we would also have need of that person to translate everything that we’ve filmed and then help us in the edit. Again, that’s where our concern with budget and time comes in; as well there are other constraints that you have to look at. I have been speaking to a number of different organizations all over Nigeria and they were speaking to for example I was speaking to an orphanage, NGOs and they were speaking to girls who they felt were suitable for the project.

VA: How did you find Taiwo and Kehinde and eventually decide to feature them in this project?

IN: I spoke to a wide variety of girls before I came across Taiwo and Kehinde. It was actually through a company called Action health which deals with health for young people in Nigeria and as they put in their focus, having mobilized those who work on the ground, in communities all over Nigeria. One of them that mobilizes in the Iyanapaja area alerted one of the ladies I usually get in touch with and said there were a number of girls in Iyanapaja that she felt would be suitable for this film so one day we set out and drove around the area, from one place to another to visit the girls and their families because we felt it was very important to meet them, speak to them, spend time with them and explain to them what participating in the film would actually involve because it’s quite gruelling and it was a long day. So we went and met the girls and their families and we explained what we were doing to see whether they were comfortable with that. Immediately I met with Kehinde and Taiwo, I knew that they would be really strong candidates, they were able to express themselves in a way that the girls I spoke to at Iyanapaja area of Lagos weren’t able to. For many reasons, they were able to tell me what their dreams were, what they wanted to be, they explained their situation; they had to provide for their family, they were working, they were grinding pepper every day to raise money to feed their family. They were able to tell me how much they loved going to school, they missed it and they were very articulate about what they wanted to be in the future and very passionate about education and that’s something that stood out.

VA: What were some of the issues you noticed with public education in slum communities and the reality for many of the young dropouts? 

IN: In the community where Taiye and Kehinde live, there’s a lack of public schools and most people have to go to private schools which can be a huge burden financially for a lot of families. Their stories allow you to see where the system is failing some of these girls. The lack of public schools is forcing some and making their families not to hold education for girls as a top priority, but the difficulties in being able to send your children there are leading them to withdraw the girls from school. Obviously, if the public schools were there, and readily available and inexpensive, there would be more of an incentive to just allow the girls complete their education when there’s a financial burden and a lot of families are not able to withstand that. So that was one of the issues the story was able to look at. Even within the public schools, another thing that was raised that we weren’t able to explore in the film was that the girls said that in their schools, there were no facilities even though it’s a private school and the assumption is that private schools would have better facilities but the girls told me that they had no labs, no books in their library there was really just a lack of facilities. Another thing that I don’t think the film explored is how religion as well plays a role in all of this. I exploited it a little bit more in the article but the girls’ mother had fallen ill, she was completely bedridden and she wasn’t able to walk and her family had taken her back to the village. The girls’ father, on the other hand, he was fit and well and able to walk but he had said that he had a vision from God to stay in the church and pray for others and I mean he strongly believed that he was doing the right thing but his decision had also had a huge impact on the family because all of a sudden, his little girls had to become the breadwinner for him to pursue that.

VA: Was there anything particularly unique about Taiwo and Kehinde’s story?

IN: A lot of the girls I spoke to were more focused on the present and getting by day to day, so it was refreshing to meet these girls who had so many hopes and dreams for the future and were able to articulate that. Another thing I liked about the story is that there were so many layers there. But I’d say you always learn something from dealing and spending time with people, learning things about how different people live. Another thing I learnt was about the education system in Nigeria. I really gained so much insight on how the education system works especially in slum communities and what people in slum communities are facing when they send their children to school and also, the scale of the issue. Because I spoke to so many girls who were going through these different struggles and having difficulties with trying to get an education and I mentioned this earlier, there were so many different stories from girls in the north west of the country for example who their parents were putting pressure on them to leave school and get married at 14 or 15 years old so that’s an issue that is particularly prevalent in the north west of the country and other part of the country with people not just being able to keep up with the school fees and then having to pull the children out of school because they can’t keep up with the fees so in these families you have children who are just staying at home and working because they have no other alternative so it kind of gives you an insight into the lives of so many children we see here. We see so many children on the streets, selling things and it gives you an insight into what these children are really going through.

Ijeoma Ndukwe and Ema Edioso are contributors to the Fuller Project for International Reporting. The project was supported by The Malala Fund, published by PRI’s Across Women’s Lives and by Ventures Africa, executively produced by Uzo Iweala and Xanthe Scharff.

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