There is tension in the air and people are restless. There are rumours that something is going to happen so the school is closed early. As Hassan Modu steps out of his school to begin his journey home, there is an explosion. Although Hassan escapes unharmed, two of his colleagues are killed in the blast.
Hassan Modu (53) is the principal at Mashamari Primary School. He was posted here four months ago. Despite working for more than 20 years at his previous school he feels more at home in this school. Hassan has a passion for teaching and talks of it as both an act of love and sacrifice.
“Teaching is my life, not just a career. Although I am a principal, I still like to teach and I lead classes on civic education.”
Hassan takes his profession seriously. He discourages punishment in the school and spends time with his teachers, guiding them on the principles of positive discipline. He believes children should be placed at the centre of teaching practices. It is clear Hassan cares deeply about the students and teachers. He even describes how he gave a struggling teacher new clothes so he would feel proud when he taught in the school.
Safety is a priority for Hassan, and as he sits in the shade of the tree in the middle of the school yard, he points reassuringly to the watchmen that close the gates at night and protect the grounds during the day. Before the insurgency, there was no perimeter fence and the grounds were often used as a thoroughfare connecting the community with the main road. The school was exposed and, as a result, attacked several times. Although Hassan was not the principal of the school at this time, he has heard the stories.
Hassan is glad to see recent improvements made by the state; a high wall mounted with barbed wire now encloses the school campus. The wall was built recently by the government as part of efforts to better protect schools from attack.
“As a signatory to the Safe Schools Declaration, the Nigerian government is working to improve the safety of schools across Northeast Nigeria. However, there is still a long way to go and many other schools remain without fencing and safety improvement, or risk reduction plans.”
Hassan knows well the importance of establishing a safe learning environment. He has witnessed violent attacks and been threatened on several occasions. During the insurgency he received text messages warning him not to continue teaching and had a letter posted on the front of his door threatening harm. Fearful of the consequences, his wife pleaded with Hassan to stop teaching but Hassan was determined to continue. Eventually he was forced to go into hiding for six months because the insurgents began pursuing him and he feared for his life.
Hassan is thankful that he was not hurt during the insurgency and that the security situation is improving. However, he still carries painful memories of colleagues who were harmed. The insurgency has had an impact on everyone in Northeast Nigeria and, in schools, both teachers and students often need psychosocial support.
“I was glad to join the training offered by Plan International to develop skills in psychosocial support and I hope to cascade the training to teachers in my school. I recognise the need for practical skills to support the healing process.”
Hassan speaks enthusiastically about the training, describing it as comprehensive. He is using his new skills already, to make his classes more practical and inclusive, and to support teachers. He knows many challenges lie ahead and believes the training is helping his school to be better prepared to support those affected by the insurgency. Hassan is also resolute that the training offers more than just practical skills. He believes the training is important for teachers because it lifts their spirits and reminds them that their efforts are not forgotten, that people recognise how difficult it is to be a teacher in this context and that they want to offer support.
Plan International Ireland has been working in in Borno State, in Northeast Nigeria, since 2014. The organisation is supporting people who have been affected by Boko Haram with teachers like Hassan with education in emergencies and child protection programmes.