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Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of Fatima Tayabu – Zamfara State, Nigeria


The first thing one notices about Fatima is her charming and captivating open smile which adorns her face like a half moon. As the streets come alive with the first rays of sun, one sees even more clearly the guarded looks from the other children getting set for the day’s activities and the striking realization that smiles are not common place. This is not unconnected to the restrictive upbringing and early disciplines imposed by culture and traditions. But Fatima cannot stop smiling; come to think of it, she cannot stop herself from doing several other things. For example, walking few kilometers to go to school every morning, rain or shine. And this makes nine-year-old Fatima the first literate person in her family of seven.

Fatima is a star pupil and learning with the methods of Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) program. RANA, which means “Sun,” in Hausa language, is funded by U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) through United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and implemented by FHI 360.  RANA is working with primary schools, integrated Qur’anic schools, school management authorities and local government institutions to deliver evidence-based approach to early grade literacy and numeracy in Northern Nigeria, particularly in Katsina and Zamfara states.  RANA project has already shown some promising gains in the states where it operates. Data collected within the first year of implementation (2015 – 2016)   using the “Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA)” tool indicate some improvement on pupil learning performance over and beyond a similar assessment conducted in Katsina State under the “Nigeria Reading and Access Research Activity (RARA)”. The RANA assessment indicated a decline in zero score performance in oral reading fluency. In addition, about 28% of girls exhibit successful acquisition of basic literacy skills—defined as being able to identify at least 11 letter sounds per minute. Approximately 18% of all girls are able to read at a near-fluent level—defined as being able to read a Hausa passage at a pace of at least 32 correct words per minute.

Fatima Tayabu and her Mother

Fatima’s father is a farmer and her mother sells milk. The living condition in Fatima’s home may not show a certain financial abundance, but the openness Fatima’s father, Mallam Tayabu displays clearly indicates the remarkable influence she has had on her father. With glowing pride, he speaks of his daughter coming home from school every day and sharing her books with him. With the last rays of sunlight coming in through their tiny looking window, she cuddles next to him and explains each lesson with colorful illustrations while he nods in appreciation of the influence the RANA reading program has had on Fatima and the opportunity afforded her to break the prevailing norm and reach her full potentials.

Fatima’s love for school and reading has not gone unnoticed by neighbors who now give Fatima rides to school. She stands at the top of her class. When asked, Fatima said that she would like to a be a doctor when she grows up. Her mother looks on in awe, daring to believe what was once impossible and seeing a new world through the eyes of her daughter. Her father nods on, beaming with pride and seeming to say through his guarded expression – that is my daughter. All this has convinced Fatima’s parents to be committed towards her growth. Some say Fatima has shattered stereotype, coming from her humble background with completely illiterate parents.

Perhaps Fatima is the new norm; an example that will be repeated in many climes and many times through different individuals. Before RANA came to these LGAs, the children did not have books of their own to take home. RANA books are now a household source of learning, not just for the children but for many of the adults who never had the chance to attend school. RANA program is gaining traction in the two states with a focus and delivery that promises a bright future for Fatima and several others who are willing to challenge statuesque and simply refuse to be limited by the circumstances of their birth. RANA reading program continues to push boundaries and empower children to go the extra mile between the past and present in order to arrive at their desired future.

 “RANA – never letting the SUN go down on your dreams”

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