A girl is "not an item to be sold"

Fatou Haidana, 15 and paralyzed, has rejected numerous offers of marriage. A LWF sponsorship program is putting Fatou through school, enabling her to turn away suitors. Photo: LWF/C. Kästner
Fatou Haidana, 15 and paralyzed, has rejected numerous offers of marriage. A LWF sponsorship program is putting Fatou through school, enabling her to turn away suitors. Photo: LWF/C. Kästner

Sponsorship gives girls confidence to make own decisions

(LWI) - The first man who proposed marriage to Fatou Haidana had seen her at the market. He followed her home and asked for her hand. Her mother declined. The second was a Marabout, a traditional healer, who threatened to curse her if she did not accept. Her parents sent him away as well. “I’d like to be married, it’s the wish of every girl,” the 15-year-old from Mauritania says. “But I have to complete my studies first. With a good education and a job I would be independent.”

Independence is not the first thing that comes to mind when looking at Fatou. The young girl is paralyzed from the waist down. To get into her wheelchair, even to just change her position sitting on the living room floor, Fatou needs assistance. A sponsorship program by the Lutheran World Federation program in Mauritania has ensured her education and given her the confidence to make her own decisions.

Good support network

In 2009 Fatou for noticed a weakness in her legs for the first time. The traditional healer they called applied herbs and massaged her legs. Yet, Fatou kept falling. Two years later, at the age of 11, she stopped walking altogether. “A lot changed for me,” she says. “I always need help, even to dress myself.”

Every morning she takes a taxi to school, the only available means of transport. Her mother has to move her from the wheelchair into the vehicle. ”Some taxis don’t stop when they see my wheelchair,” she says. “But there are also kind drivers who help to move me. I am often late because of this taxi problem.”

At school, she is supported by friends and teachers, who also provide lessons when she misses class – either because there is no taxi, or her mother is ill. The sponsorship covers her school fees, school supplies, medical check-ups and insurance for both Fatou and her mother, as well as extra assistance in school, such as a school manual, teaching aids and tutorials. However, the taxi fare of 3.30USD a day and the assistance at home have to be provided by her family. She also needs to buy lunch as she cannot return home at midday to eat like other students.

Plans to study medicine

Fatou lives with her mother, her stepfather and two siblings in the poorer part of the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott. The unpaved street full of small rocks and puddles is almost impossible to navigate with a wheelchair. Fatou’s mother stopped working because she has back problems. Lifting a teenage girl many times a day is taking its toll. The family is struggling to make ends meet but unwavering in their support for her.

LWF sponsorship is designed to ensure the education of children in difficult situations. Fatou is one of 330 recipients, 70 percent of them girls from vulnerable families. Eleven percent of the sponsored children live with disability. Individual donors in Finland, through the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission support a child by sponsoring school fees, teacher’s assistance and tutoring. They receive a report twice a year and a report of Fatou’s grades. Although the only student with a disability in her school, Fatou always finishes one of the best in her class.

Fatou spends many afternoons at home, studying and listening to music. But she also maintains her circle of friends, who come to visit, help her move around at school and invite her for birthdays. Support from family, teachers and friends has given Fatou the confidence to plan her own life. She wants to study medicine and “become the best doctor in the country.” She dreams of visiting the United States, where her uncle lives there and has told her many good things

“They wanted to possess me”

The one thing Fatou does not like are weddings. Too noisy, too crowded and full of people staring at the girl in the wheelchair. “They ask me why I don’t walk, since I have two legs,” she says. “I would rather spend my time with people with whom I am comfortable.”

Like other Mauritanian girls her age, Fatou would like to marry and have a family one day. The teenager has since received more marriage proposals. One promised her a house, another wanted to buy her a car. Most said she would be able to continue her education. All offered to pay for medical examinations and treatment which might enable Fatou to walk again.

Fatou has refused all these offers. “I am not ready for these men,” she says. “I did not like the way they were speaking. It was like I was an item to be sold. They wanted to possess me.”

 

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