Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Girls' Education: Successful Grassroots Campaigns

Before I start listing NGOs that are promoting the cause of women's education, I should note that the programs that all these nonprofits support almost always transcend the formal educational process, addressing other women's needs and problems as well. These issues include sex trafficking, female genital cutting, maternal health & family planning, economic empowerment, AIDS/HIV prevention, and women's rights. The reason is that, as many of these problems have cultural roots, education turned out to be the key element in resolving all of them.

For example, one of the most effective ways of preventing girls from being sex trafficked is to keep them in school. Two great ways to achieve this is building schools in rural areas and "bribing" parents for the perfect school attendance of their daughters. Rural School Projects have been implemented around the world. In Cambodia, for example, where many girls end up being trafficked to brothels in Thailand, Rural School Project is supported by American Assistance for Cambodia/Japan Relief for Cambodia (AAfC). The project has built 470 schools all around the country. Donors pay $13,000 and the funds are matched by World Bank and Asian Development Bank; after the schools (with the donors' name on it!) are constructed donors are encouraged to support students by funding improvements for their school, such as computers, Internet access, a water well, or a vegetable garden.

While it is clear that not everybody can afford donating $13,000, this sum is very achievable if the ones who care unite their forces! One of the schools in Cambodia, for example, was fully funded by the Overlake School in America, whose students not only funded the school, but also visited and established life-long relationships with their Cambodian counterparts. Think about how easy and enriching it would be for (a) collegiate student organization(s) to raise this money! The importance of having a school in a village simply cannot be overstated, because a school is the only opportunity that these rural girls have for changing their lives for the better.

American Assistance to Cambodia has established another program, Girls Be Ambitious, that provides families with $10/month if their daughters have perfect school attendance. The logic behind this is that girls in poor rural communities usually have to abandon education and help their family survive by taking jobs far from home or even abroad, often ending up as sex slaves. This way, for $120/month you can fight sex trafficking and save one girls' life.

Tostan is another successful grassroots campaign that concentrates on education, but whose main objective is to stop female genital cutting and promote women's human rights. Cultural awareness of the founder and leadership of African women helped Tostan achieve what no international or governmental organization managed to do- create cultural acceptance of the notion that female genital cutting is damaging for women's health and that an "uncut" woman is no worse and deserves to be married as any woman who has been cut. Tostan was launched in Senegal in 1991 and slowly but surely achieved such results- 2600 villages announced that they had ceased cutting between 2002-2006 - that Senegalese government itself decided to adopt Tostan's approach on the national level. Now Tostan is trying to establish itself in Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, and Central African Republic.

The last two NGOs that I would like to note are:

Afghan Institute of Learning managed to hold classes for girls and boys even during Taliban regime (!) and now provides education, vocational training, and medical help for 350,000 women and children around the country.

CAMFED is a nonprofit that supports girls' education in Africa. Started by a Welsh woman, striving to help girls in Zimbabwe, it now helps girls and boys attend and stay in school, get college scholarships, learn basic economic skills, and start small businesses. Since 1993 Camfed improved the school environment for 1,065,710 children in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Ghana. (The picture is CAMFED's "get involved" banner, so I suppose I can use it here.)

As usual most of the information, inspiration, and knowledge I found in "Half The Sky." Let me know, if you would like me to list more similar organizations or maybe NGOs working in specific countries or for a different cause. In my next post I will concentrate on microfinance and how it changes lives all around the developing world.

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