A year ago I sat at a health post in Amhara, Ethiopia, surrounded by adolescent girls. Some attended school; others did not. The difference between the in-school and out-of-school girls struck me: those who went to school were confident enough to approach me and make conversation. Those who didn’t stayed away, averted their eyes and ran when I asked them their names.
Education is the difference between navigating reality and running from it because education goes beyond reading and math and teaches life skills.
When a girl is educated, she develops traits like assertiveness and confidence. She learns to make use of resources and respond to challenges. She reflects and makes informed decisions. She can identify danger, navigate tough situations and negotiate safety and security by understanding both the risks and opportunities of her environment.
An educated girl can create a life of dignity amid even the most undignified circumstances. And so I’ve worked with a team over the past year to create an organization that focuses on educating girls, Enhance Worldwide.
This fall, we began helping girls living in an impoverished section of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia attend school. Although there is a school in this community, these girls lacked access. Here lack of access meant that their families couldn’t afford the mandatory public school fees or uniform.
In response, we simply provided these materials. We could have created and implemented educational programs, but it would be foolish to think that we, as an outside organization, could do a better job educating girls than their own community. This community-centered approach focuses on respecting local knowledge and using local resources while ensuring that the girls are learning life skills by actively engaging with others. I have an office full of life skills curriculums that I’ve designed for girls in Ethiopia and yet I know that nothing teaches life skills like participating in life itself.
When we send a girl to school, we ensure that she is able to attend and participate. We provide her household with basic items, such as eggs and cooking fuel, to help stabilize her home life. We recognize that providing these materials isn’t sustainable, and it’s not meant to be: once a girl receives an education, she will be able to purchase these items on her own. Further, we supply book bags and notebooks and review attendance and report cards. If she struggles in school, we provide a tutor. If an issue inhibits her learning, we work with her to find a solution. In partnership with Days for Girls Yellow Springs, this winter we will provide adolescent girls with pad kits so that menstruation doesn’t keep them from school.
We aren’t following the trend of dropping support after 12th grade: we provide this safety net until the girls we support are standing on their own as adults. This might mean helping them attend university, get a job or even understand an apartment lease. We recognize that girls from privileged backgrounds are supported until independence. In order to ensure that these girls from underprivileged backgrounds can gain independence, we support them in the same way.