It is an unfortunate reality that even in modern times, girls have fewer opportunities than boys when it comes to receiving an education. Girls all over the world face discrimination within their cultures where they are not seen as equals to men, and therefore an emphasis on educating women is mostly absent. Barriers such as early marriage, low social status, chores and responsibilities, unsafe schools, and sanitation mean that young girls are not learning and not getting jobs to generate steady income. Without an education, they can’t educate their own children, which keep their families living in a cycle of poverty.
“If we educate a boy, we educate one person. If we educate a girl, we educate a family – and a whole nation.”
We’d like to think of this as a problem found only in impoverished countries, but the discrepancy is found in America as well. I have visited many projects that Children Incorporated is affiliated with all over the world, and girls both here in the U.S. and abroad face difficult circumstances when it comes to getting an education. From Kenya to India, to Bolivia, to Eastern Kentucky, women are less likely to be educated and more likely to live in poverty as adults than men. However, thanks to efforts made by organizations like Children Incorporated, there is hope that the achievement gap between girls and boys will close.
Children Incorporated provides basic needs to impoverished children – usually food, clothing, school supplies, and hygiene items through our sponsorship program. Beyond support from individual sponsors, we help young girls and women so they have a better chance at overcoming obstacles in their lives through skill training, job training, tutoring programs, and by building infrastructures such as dorm rooms and homes.
One of the best examples of supporting women’s education I have seen in my travels with Children Incorporated was in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Last spring, I visited Villa Emilia, a group home where a group of dedicated nuns help women and children who have been living on the streets. These families often come from hard and dangerous conditions, and the sisters who run the home help them transition and turn their lives around for the better. If it weren’t for Villa Emilia, the children who live at home would grow up uneducated and homeless. At best, the boys would eventually become laborers or field hands. The girls, however, often have no options but to take to the streets as their mothers had done – thus continuing the cycle.
When mothers and children come to Villa Emilia, they are offered a temporary home. The children attend local schools, and the women are taught garment making and given jobs in the factory, where they make their own money and are encouraged to save so they can eventually move out on their own.
Not only are the mothers taught integral life skills that they can pass down to their children, they also feel a sense of empowerment from applying their work ethic and earning their own income.
Villa Emilia also helps families to build permanence and stability. The sisters who run the home put down payments on pieces of land for the women, who then pay the mortgage on the land. Children Incorporated was able to step in and fund the building of eight houses for the women and their children so they could move into a permanent living situation.
If it weren’t for the mothers’ hard work and dedication to learning new skills, they would have never escaped poverty. These women have become role models for the girls – and the boys – of the next generation.
Photo Courtesy of New York School Talk
Last year, I visited San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, where Children Incorporated has promoted girls education by purchasing computers for the local library, where girls and boys from local schools can come and take classes after school. This past summer, while visiting our affiliated projects in Telangana, India, I found that Children Incorporated supports mainly girls’ homes, which ensure girls from poor rural communities are given the opportunity to go to school and are encouraged to pursue higher education.
We have built dozens of dorms and schools so these homes can increase the number of girls who can attend – girls who otherwise would never be educated.
In Lages, Brazil, Children Incorporated began supporting the women of Grupo Art’Mulher, a community bakery that sells cookies, bread, pasta, and cakes. The group’s purpose is to teach business skills and a trade to local mothers. As a result, they are able to earn a steady income and provide for themselves and their families. When the program began five years ago, twenty women received instruction on how to bake and sell pastries. Since then, the program has only grown. Grupo Art’Mulher began making a name for itself at the local market, and many members of the first class ended up getting jobs in the food industry. The mothers of Grupo Art’Mulher have learned to support their families and cooking and business skills they can pass down to their own children. They’ve also earned enough to give back – a percentage of the bakery income will be donated to start music and theater courses in a building across the street from it this year.
In Kentucky, Children Incorporated’s higher education fund encourages young women to pursue college or vocational school. One former sponsored child from our program, Alesha, is now the mother of two children. She had a sponsor that supported her throughout high school and while she attended Morehead State University where she studied Education. She is now working towards becoming a speech and language pathologist. Without the support of our program and the encouragement of her sponsor, Alesha might have succumbed to the financial and emotional hardships she faced growing up in poverty with a father who struggled with a pain killer addiction.
While visiting our projects in Nairobi, Kenya, I met a young woman named Mwanaharusi who lived in the Pumwani slum, one of the largest and worst slums in the world. Between 70,000 and 100,000 people live crowded together in shacks with no water or electricity. One of our affiliate projects near the slum is St. John’s Community Center, where 200 children are taught academic subjects, along with trades like woodworking, metal work, sewing, and cooking. Mwanaharusi, who learned to sew while she was attending St. John’s, started a small business out of her home mending garments and making clothes for her neighbors. She saved enough money to buy a foot-powered sewing machine, which she demonstrated for me how it worked. It’s modest success by some standards; but in the darkest corners of the world, it’s a major victory. A girl born into poverty – in a country where girls are often not educated at all – finishes school, starts her own business and is able to support herself and her family. With every success like Mwanaharusi’s, and the other success stories we see, we move one step closer to equality for girls.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.