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Project: Gidan Almajirai

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What is ‘Gidan Almajirai?’

GIDAN ALMAJIRAI has been operating as a co-operative for young scholars of Qur’an, since January 2012. Currently 10 members run the house independently, while at secondary school. Small enterprises are explored as a practical experience of the curriculum. Apprenticeships and community service are part of the total picture. Our project allows the almajiri to attend formal education or to take an apprenticeship with a master craftsman for a year which is where we seek assistance for from donations.

What your Donation can do*


DONATE $125(£85) per term x3 terms enables an almajiri to attend a secondary school. A commitment of 5 or 6 years is preferred. Students are selected based on their aptitude and dedication to studies, along with their intention to enter the professions that require a university education.


DONATE $50(£34) enables a youth to take an apprenticeship with a master craftsman for a year


DONATE $25(£17) feeds a youth for a month


DONATE $15(£11) clothes a youth


You asked…

What is an ‘Almajiri’?

Traditionally an almajiri (singular) is a scholar of the Qur’an who has left his home for this purpose. He is likely to spend 7 -12 years studying with a traditional teacher and earning his own keep. The custom across the southern Sahara is eight centuries old and very similar to the Buddhist monasteries of SE Asia, except the boys are not expected to beg and it is unusual to have pre-pubescent boys among them. They accept great hardships, experience all sorts of trades, interact with the general population often serving in the larger houses, and visit their home annually.
Girls are generally kept in their villages.

What ages are the Almajirai?

At Gidan Almajirai the young people believed to be between 13 to 20 years of age (five, we think, are minors) and have been living and managing the house for the last three years.

Generally the almajirai (plural) is in early adolescence when he leaves home to fulfill this course of study. He is likely to have had some primary schooling in the village before this quest begins. Some abuse of the tradition has occurred in recent times with boys as young as six turning up, lost and ill-equipped to handle the rigours of an education intended for older students. Gidan Almajirai, along with the majority of traditional teachers, does not condone the practice. By age 20 most have committed the Qur’an to memory and can translate it into their mother tongue. The curriculum ensures the cultivation of good character, entrepreneurial flair and citizenship.

Where do they live?

Gidan Almajirai is a home where the students are able to manage the household budget, perform all the daily duties of a household and continue to have a sense of family. We have the lease on a house inside the ancient city walls of the old city of Kano, initially funded by a generous donor.

In the first few years an almajiri may sleep in his teacher’s house where he may also be fed. By age 14 he is expected to be providing for himself. The teachers rarely expect any payment until the student graduates so hunger is often shared by the household.

Traditional architecture includes an entrance hall or a room in the house, immediately off the street that is never furnished. This Zaure is available for sojourners, and other people in need, to use overnight. Almajirai are among those who sleep in a zaure, using the same one each night for many years. They will often perform household duties, accepting a measure of food as payment. Their personal possessions are kept in the care of their teacher, or stored at the nearest mosque. In the absence of a zaure alamjirai will put their sleepingmats outside and sleep in the street after the city has gone to bed.

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Observations

by Fiona Lovatt

Nigeria had at least one education system, prior to colonisation. It worked well. The students who completed the course had 100% mastery of the written material, and they had successfully sustained and disciplined themselves in the period of study.

Students had four hours a day, in two blocks of two hours at either end of the day, working to the best of their ability and at their own pace, to master literacy and literature – handwriting, spelling, proof reading, reciting. The standard was excellence in this component. Their teachers had 1:1 time with every student and maintained a long term mentoring relationship with each one of them.

During the day the students participated in community and economic life, learning as they worked beside adults or with groups of older children. They apprenticed themselves to artisans until they had learnt all they wanted to know. There were no toys and no particular forms of “entertainment” provided specifically for children.

There were storytellers and discussions among adults and the children fell asleep listening to their elders talk. Songs and poetry kept history alive. The practical experiences gave lessons in science and social studies, economics and civics lessons that cannot be learnt from a book.

The system still exists, in tandem with the national curriculum. What is notable is that students who spent six years following the tradition, outperform the children who attend state and private primary schools. There is more effort put into outlawing the traditional, successful system, than in improving the colonial, clerk-producing, generally failing system. It must be time to allow what works to proceed unhindered. It costs the state nothing.


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