Salma is determined to stay in school – no matter what

4 April 2024

An illness made Salma lose her hearing, her ability to speak and her chance to go to school. But in Salma's world, actions speak louder than words. She plans to become a teacher – and nothing will stop her.

Salma is happiest in school.
Salma says she is happiest in school.

“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher. I don’t think anything can stop me.”


Where is 11-year-old Salma happiest? “School,” she signs. However, it took her more than seven years to get there.  

Salma, who lives in Nigeria,  has been deaf and nonverbal since she and her twin sister caught measles when they were four years old. The illness claimed her sister’s life and took away Salma’s ability to hear and speak. Surgery to correct the issue cost 13 million naira (£6,750 GBP). “We couldn’t afford that,” says Mohammed, her dad.  

Salma’s hearing issues went untreated, and she was kept from school, watching her other siblings go where she wished she could be. Her parents weren’t aware of any way she could get an education with her condition.  

She was isolated, with no one to talk to except her sister Hauwa, who had learned some of the local sign language.  

When she did go outside, she was taunted by community members. “Children would throw stones at her,” says Mohammed. 

“I don’t think other people understand me well,” Salma signs. 

But Lawan Mustapha does. He’s her teacher. 

The support of a good teacher

Mustapha sought out Salma’s parents and encouraged them to enrol her in his specialised class for children with hearing impairments.  

Her dad hesitated at the distance and cost of getting her there. But Salma’s determination convinced her parents to enroll her in Mustapha’s class. She wanted to go to school more than anything. She knew education was her right – it was one of the breakthroughs she made at the Plan International life-skills club she attended with her sister Hauwa. 

The club was an accepting space for Salma to discover and share with peers. Blessing Salihu, Salma’s life-skills instructor, spoke to the teen girls about their rights and how to advocate for themselves. She filled the lessons with songs and dances and meaningful discussions about the need for inclusivity and equality.  

“She smiles more and is more playful with her siblings and other children. This gives me so much joy as a father.” 

Mohammed, Salma’s father

There and at school, Salma realised her power to express herself.  

“My friends are in my school,” signs Salma. “They can’t speak either, so we sign to each other.”  

Salma has started to see the world differently and vice versa. “She smiles more and is more playful with her siblings and other children,” Mohammed says. “This gives me so much joy as a father.” 

All it took was an equal chance to learn and be rightfully included.  

Salma has her family on her side

An uphill climb 

Salma’s life as a girl with a disability in poverty and a conflict region may never be easy. She says she doesn’t have any friends outside of school. And it’s unsafe for her to get to class alone but her parents can’t always afford the scooter that takes her. “When I tell her that sometimes [she has to stay home], she sits down and cries,” says Mohammed. “She doesn’t like to miss school.” 

Yet he understands the lifelong benefits of completing education. “What’s the point of sending her to school if you’d stop her from learning in the future?” 

Mohammed and the other encouraging people in her life – her mother, Amina; her teacher, life-skills mentor and her beloved sister and translator, Hauwa – support Salma as best they can with the tools for her to climb. 

Her uphill journey doesn’t look as steep now – she trusts in herself and has support. 

Salma’s plan: become a teacher

Today, Salma is her class representative. “I believe that I can finish my education,” she signs. Salma’s teacher feels that, with her determined spirit, Salma can make a positive contribution to the community and to society at large. 

“I believe she can achieve her dreams,” says her life-skills instructor. 

What is her dream? To become a teacher. “I don’t think anything can stop me,” Salma signs. 

Learn more about Salma and her support system