At 22 years old, Salamatu Mohammed Shiraz is an ambitious, dynamic and persistent young woman who believes everybody has the right to quality education.
Growing up in Tamale in the Northern Region, Salamatu experienced strong economic limitations that reduced her ability to access quality education. The oldest daughter of a single mother, Salamatu, at age 12, moved from her village to the city. Despite being one of the most brilliant students in her school from childhood, Salamatu struggled to access quality education due to the under-resourced nature of the schools she attended in the Northern Region. Hidden charges often included in the public education system, from exams fees to furniture and extra classes fees, made it difficult for Salamatu’s mother to make ends meet and offer her daughter the best of education.
To support herself and her family, Salamatu sold bread at the Tamale Market. Using some of the profit from bread selling, as well as with support from teachers and community members, Salamatu paid her way into Senior High School. Admitted to the Kalpohin Senior High School (KASS) in the Sagnarigu District in the Northern Region, Salamatu was asked to buy her own chair as the school was severely under-resourced. Faced with these challenges, Salamatu did not give up, never once considering dropping out of school. With support from Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED), a non-governmental organisation that sponsors marginalised girls to access education, succeed and lead, Salamatu was able to complete her senior high school education.
The challenges Salamatu faced never prevented her from demonstrating leadership skills, in fact, it did quite the opposite.
In primary school, she was elected Student Prefect. In Senior High School, Salamatu was voted the Secretary General of her course.
Salamatu confesses that she has been an activist without knowing it since she was in primary school, taking any opportunity to question her patriarchal society and demand equal opportunities for girls to be educated.
In high school, her teachers were engaged in a process of selecting five students per class to attend a special Information Technology (IT) workshop, at the end of the selection process, Salamatu realised no girl had been selected. She did not remain silent over it. Salamatu recalls questioning the process and sparking a heated debate with the boys and the teachers on equal opportunities for boys and girls. Eventually, three out of five students selected for the IT workshop were girls. Because of her, a space had been created for the girls.
Since then, Salamatu has been actively advocating for opportunities for girls and women to be educated and empowered. However, Salamatu started calling herself an activist after she joined ActionAid’s Global Platform Ghana, an innovative training and capacity development platform that educates youth groups and young individuals who are passionate about making positive changes in their communities, for a campaign training in 2015.
The campaign issue selected during the Global Platform Ghana course was the right to education – particularly the right to Teaching and Learning Materials (TLMs) such as desks and books in basic schools in rural areas in Ghana. An issue Salamatu has had first-hand and personal experiences with.
The campaign demanded the provision of adequate teaching and learning materials to basic schools in Ghana. During the course of the campaign, which included sensitisation meetings, Salamatu realised the Ghana Education Service (GES) is supposed to provide enough books, desks and chairs to public schools for all students. The realisation made her feel indignant as she felt neglected and marginalised any time she remembered that she had never received any textbooks and learning materials from her primary education to junior high school.
Research conducted by the Global Platform Ghana campaign team in four selected schools in the region also discovered that the schools did not have sufficient number of desks, textbooks and other teaching materials – with the issue being widespread in basic schools. Salamatu and her campaign team also discovered that, on average, a textbook is shared among five students, with some students even resorting to sitting on the bare classroom floor due to the lack of desks and chairs.
The campaign was a chance for Salamatu to speak up about how Ghana’s public education system was failing boys and girls and gave her the opportunity to fight for the right to quality education for children, not only in her community, but in the Northern region and Ghana as a whole.
Salamatu became the co-spokesperson of the campaign and a leading figure in organising and mobilising the youth and her colleagues to advocate for change on the issue of inadequate provision of teaching and learning materials.
Her passion and zeal, as well as her commitment and understanding of the issue were so intense that it earned her the nickname, “Action Mama”
She gave public speeches to raise awareness in the busiest streets of Tamale, participated in radio debates, and spoke at the campaign march at the Tamale Independence Square.
Her speeches informed citizens about their right to education as enshrined in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution. She questioned the current state of education in Ghana and whether education is still a right or it has become a privilege. Together with the campaign team, Salamatu met the Regional Education Director of the Northern Region of Ghana, and presented the campaign research report showing evidence of the lack of desks, chairs, textbooks and other necessary learning and teaching materials in the four selected schools to the Director, and demanded for action.
The result of the campaign was a commitment on the part of the Ghana Education Service to distribute desks to the four schools, as well as a strong awareness and support among citizens and organisations of the campaign. Overall, the campaign mobilised more than 400 young people, school representatives, and active citizens.
Today, Salamatu is the chairperson of CAMA (the alumnae network of CAMFED) and is responsible for training, mentoring and empowering other girls in the areas of education, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
ActionAid also unveiled Salamatu as the elected National Coordinator of Activista Ghana, its advocacy network on the International Youth Day on Friday, 12th August, 2016.
According to Salamatu, being part of the campaign course has offered her an in-depth understanding and insight of the structural reasons behind the challenges she faced as a student and also as a woman, as she puts it,
I have been a victim, now I have the power to stand for people.
Training and Quality Coordinator
Global Platform Ghana