Persevering Against All Odds

Patience Apies Aikpitanyi had already left university once due to poverty and was on the verge of dropping out again when she received a life-changing scholarship. (Photo Credit: Megan Lindow)

Patience Apies Aikpitanyi, a high school teach and registrar, reflects on how a scholarship enabled her to stay enrolled at a Nigerian university in the face of great obstacles. 

This article is part of a series exploring the transformation of African women's lives through education.

At Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, a women’s scholarship program backed by Carnegie Corporation of New York provided a lifeline to an invisible population: indigent students struggling to meet their most basic needs.

Unlike other countries where the Corporation scholarships were offered, Nigeria has free tuition at its public universities. However, many students from backgrounds of deep deprivation can barely cover their living expenses. The problem is especially acute among female students, whose personal stories often reflect the gender inequalities present in Nigerian society.

“You would hear testimonies: I don't even know what my father looks like. He left my mother in the hospital because I was a girl, and there were so many girls in the family,” explains Professor Olabisi Aina, the former director of the Gender Center at Obafemi Awolowo University. 

The scholarships, often amounting to just a few hundred dollars, made all the difference for many women. For Patience Apies Aikpitanyi, the financial support was life-changing. Growing up in a polygamous household, she was disinherited after her father divorced her mother. Despite her mother's appeals, her father would not pay a single naira toward supporting her academic pursuits. Patience enrolled at the University of Ibadan, another Nigerian public university, but her finances were too precarious and she soon had to drop out.

“I knew that if I wanted a better life for myself, I needed an education. So I kept pushing, and kept trying,” Patience recalls.  A few years later, she scraped together enough money to enroll as a student in history and sociology at Obafemi Awolowo, but once again found herself unable to afford food and clothing. Just as she was about to give up, she received a scholarship in 2003—the first year the scholarship program was offered at Obafemi Awolowo University. The award covered her living expenses for one year.

“The support pulled me through,” she says. “It was such a big relief. If I had an assignment, I didn’t have to worry about how to pay for typing or for photocopying. It was in my account, it had been given to me. That kept me psychologically stable, and I could deal with my academics.”  When Patience received the scholarship, she ranked third class (equivalent to a US C+) in academic performance. The financial boost enabled her to focus on her coursework and significantly improve her grades.

“I eventually graduated with a second class,” she says. “That was something really big for me.

Now married with three children, Patience is a high school registrar who also teaches English and civics. Moreover, she has completed a master's degree in social work and dreams of becoming a pioneer in this field, which is still quite new in Nigeria.

“The reason I have come this far is that I got a lot of help from people,” she says. “I have received so much, and I feel I need to give back to society.”

Megan Lindow is an award-winning writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a former Africa Correspondent for the Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of Weaving Success: Voices of Change in African Higher Education, the story of a major 10-year initiative investing in African universities.