This week, many of us have followed with great sadness the story of the heroic 14-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai , who was targeted by the Taliban for speaking out for the right girls have to education. Without question, this is one of the most horrible examples of the severe challenges that girls around the world face to develop their God-given gifts and talents.
Today, with images of Malala in mind, we recognize and celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl. But on this historic day, we also remember the millions of girls around the world are quietly facing less violent but no less real obstacles to pursuing an education that will empower them to lift themselves out of poverty. These obstacles include the chronic underfunding of education by corrupt governments, generalized cultural discrimination against girls, early marriage, and the physical distance that must be traveled simply to get to school.
Which Way to School?
The most common obstacle, however, is simply poverty. Parents may sincerely want to send their girls to school, but cannot afford the books, uniforms, and school fees necessary to enroll them and keep them in school. When money runs short, families generally pull their girls out of class first. In rural communities there is the added burden of household chores, such as gathering firewood and collecting water, that tend to fall disproportionately on girls and women.
As with most issues of severe poverty, the challenge to educate girls has many facets that must be addressed at the local, national, and international levels. Using examples from Africa specifically, there are many reasons to be hopeful about the increasing value of girls in society. This year Malawi gained its first female head of state, Joyce Banda. She joins Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who is widely credited for speeding Liberia’s recovery from devastating civil war. Girls in Africa can look to these women as inspiring examples of what they might aspire to in their own lives.
But what about overcoming more local barriers to girls’ development? In Tanzania, Plant With Purpose has seen participation in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) make a dramatic impact on families’ ability to keep their girls in school. Through the VSLA system, families have a safe place to save money and increase those savings. They have the confidence to know that that their hard work will pay off, and the money they earn can be used for school fees, books, and uniforms.
Wema Sells Her Chicken’s Eggs to Pay for School
One of these girls is Wema Maziri. Wema lives in the village of Mg’ende, Tanzania, located high in the Pare Mountains. The small community is made of 300 households, who live in great poverty and depend on what little subsistence farming they can produce in the deteriorating hillsides. In Mg’ende, Plant With Purpose has provided chickens (6 hens and one rooster) to Wema and other children who’ve been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. On a visit to Mn’gende, Wema said, “I received 5 chickens,but now I have 12. These chickens produce 18 eggs a week, and I am able to sell each egg for 20 cents.”
With the money she has earned from chickens, Wema has been able to afford her own school supplies and school uniform. And her ability to stay in school will dramatically improve her future.
76% of VSLA Members in Tanzania Are Women
The agricultural improvements that farmers make through Plant With Purpose programs also directly impact girls’ opportunities; As crop yields increase, family income grows and more money becomes available for education. The use of wood-saving stoves and cisterns translates into more time available for girls to attend school. New flocks of chickens and goats provide additional sources of income to pay for school fees.
Overcoming the local barriers to girls’ development won’t happen overnight, but we are encouraged to see the ways the work of Plant With Purpose is impacting girls and their families. We are proud to celebrate girls’ progress around the world today, and we are grateful for the privilege of helping girls make their dreams a reality.