Rifaat Studying in High School!

Riffat Shaheen – a resident of village Laphi nearly 48 Kilometers away from Chakwal city – was studying in 5th grade, when her father, a patient of diabetes, died. It was a time of great difficulty for her mother Makhtoom Begum – an illiterate woman with five kids to take care of. She had a small piece of cultivable land, which she started tilling on her own. It did help to some extent, but was not enough to keep the family in good condition. As Riffat passed her 5th grade examination, her mother stopped her from going to school. Riffat joined her mother in tilling the small piece of land. It was very depressing for her to work in the fields and see her classmates on their way to school passing by her fields. But she had no other options.

Thanks to the financial support from Girls Education International, our Pakistani partner organization, Bedari, selected Riffaat for an educational scholarship, which enabled her to join her school after a break of two years. Now she is studying in grade 6. She is very happy. She says, ‘the first day at school when I rejoined was the best and the happiest day of my life’.

Celebrating the Ten-Year Anniversary of Girls Education International!

By Lizzy Scully, Co-Founder, Current Board Member

Ten years ago, in November 2006, professional climber and The North Face athlete Heidi Wirtz and I officially started Girls Education International. After an epic expedition to the Karakoram Range in Pakistan, where an accident, illness and bad weather shut down our attempt to ascend the Ogre’s Thumb, we ended up spending ten days in the village Khane. The women and children adopted us as one of their own, painting our hands with henna, leading us around town on various adventures, sharing delicious meals in their kitchens and telling us stories of their lives (through our trekking guide translator). Heidi and I were smitten.

One bright day, the children proudly led us through the winding pathways of the village, past the gardens in front of every house, and then to the boys’ school. There, a tidy, whitewashed building with three classrooms lay before us. It was filled with desks, chalkboards and books, and was surrounded by a garden of flowers and a high wall topped with glass shards (to keep out vandals).

Naturally, Heidi and I asked to see the girls’ school as well. We found a one-room, dilapidated building with no heat – just a few desks and apparently no teacher.  Though unsurprising, the sight was still shocking/unsettling. There were piles of human excrement in the backyard and a broken down wall. The girls’ school, as often happens in third world countries, had been severely neglected for years. It was there, in that school building, that “Girls Ed” was born.

We founded the organization initially hoping to provide educational opportunities to the underserved girls in the remote region of the Karakoram, specifically Baltistan and Khane, where we had met so many generous, kind Pakistanis. Unfortunately, despite working with the village for two years, we were unable to establish a strong partnership with any in-country organizations, an absolute necessity when running a nonprofit in South-East Asia. However, we eventually partnered with Bedari, a long-standing, well-respected, Pakistani-run organization that empowers women of all ages. With the help of Bedari’s local expertise, we launched a program in the remote, mountainous Punjab Region of the country.
Once we got our program in Pakistan off the ground, we further pursued our passion for girls’ education by launching successful programs in Tanzania and Liberia. As a result of our efforts, we’ve helped 135 girls in Pakistan, 35 in Tanzania and more than 200 in Liberia. That’s 370 girls in a decade. 370 girls that now have educational opportunities that were previously unattainable.
I recently rejoined the board of Girls Ed because I am passionate about empowering women and excited about the many successes the organization has had over the last ten years. Throughout the course of the next decade, I want to help ten times as many girls. This ambitious goal, however, will not be possible without support. Will you help me raise funds so that we can continue to expand and support educational opportunities for underserved girls and women in some of the most remote and undeveloped regions of the world?

The benefits of educating girls in these countries are endless. Here are a few facts taken from GlobalPartnership.org, a likeminded non-profit that operates in over sixty countries across the world:

  1. According to the World Bank, the return on one year of secondary education for a girl correlates with as high as a 25% increase in wages later in life. The effects carry from one generation to the next; educated girls have fewer, healthier and better-educated children.
  2. In Pakistan, working women with high levels of literacy skills earned 95% more than women with weak or no literacy skills, whereas the differential was only 33% among men. Educated women are more empowered to take on stronger economic roles in their families and communities, and they tend to reinvest 90% of what they earn into their families, leading to better health and education outcomes for the next generation.
  3. Investing in girls’ education also helps delay early marriage and parenthood. In fact, if all girls had secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would fall by 64%, from almost 2.9 million to just over 1 million.
  4. At the wider societal level, more educated girls lead to an increase in female leaders, lower levels of population growth and the subsequent reduction of pressures related to climate change.
  5. The power of girls’ education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percent increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percent and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percent.
Girls in the village Khane.

Girls in the village Khane.

Year End Update from Girls Ed Pakistan

Tanveer Iqbal

Tanveer Iqbal

As the year comes to a close, we don't have a lot of news to report from the field. The girls are continuing their studies and our partner on the ground (Bedari) continues to refine the program. In the past we mentioned a tract that was added to augment the scholastic aspect of the program: a series of women's self-growth (health and social education) workshops. These have very successful and have kept the level of engagement in the program very high. 

After some experimentation in the field, Bedari has requested permission - which we granted - to substitute some of the workshops with "exposure" trips, where the girls are escorted to locations outside their immediate villages. We'll hear more about these in the coming months, but they have been welcomed by the girls, their families and communities.

It cannot be overstated how important family support has been in making this program a success. We have seen evidence in our both our first and current projects that our investment merely helps overcome inertia, and once the educational cycle begins, families and communities work hard to keep it going. For perspective on this, we heard from Tanveer Iqbal, relative of a student in our program in the village of Dharyala Kahoon who has taken a leadership role in the community-based organization providing support:

I am living a retired life here in my village. I served Pakistan Army for around 25 years. I receive pension from government. I had plenty of free time, and was looking for ways to make good use of it. Bedari provided me a very good opportunity. They had established a Community Based Organization (CBO), which was working for the protection of children from violence and abuse, and providing support to girls who wanted to continue their education up to secondary level. I decided to join the CBO, and contribute to the welfare of children, and girls’ education.

I knew of so many parents who wanted to send their girls to high school, but could not do so because of financial constraints. We enlisted such girls, and provided the list to Bedari staff. They visited the girls, met with their parents, and checked the status of their daughters’ education.

They announced a scholarship program for girls who wanted to continue their education up to secondary level. Our CBO volunteers worked really hard to convince girls and their parents. Our efforts bore fruit, and we are glad that our share in the Bedari’s Girls Education Program is the highest. Bedari is providing scholarship to 100 girls, and 31 of them are from our village. We are really proud of this achievement.

We are grateful to Bedari, and pray that Allah may give it strength to expand this program to every village in our district. Girls education will sure transform our villages. 

 We're very grateful for the support of the girls' families and local communities, the tremendous work done by Bedari, and our donors who help make this possible. We remain firm believers that it is only through continued educational choices that these young girls will grow to achieve all that they are capable of.

We hope that as you contemplate charitable giving at year-end, you'll consider making an additional investment in Girls Education International. 

Best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year!

All Quiet on the Liberian Front

After the upheaval and turmoil caused by the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, it is a relief to report that our girls are back in their classrooms and quietly resuming their studies.

As you may remember, the Liberian government closed all schools for six months to help contain the disease. In order to get the students back on the traditional schedule, adminstrators decided that the 2014-15 school year would be only one semester long. All students in Liberia -- including the GEI-sponsored girls -- were promoted to the next grade when the 2015-16 school year began this fall.

Time will tell how educators will make up for the lost semester, but our girls are so happy to be back in school and continuing their educations!

If you look at the group shot of the students that accompanies this article, you'll see that many of our girls are actually young women. Their educations have been interrupted many times by civil war, Ebola and other crises, yet they continue to come back to school even though they may be past the traditional age in their classrooms. We think this speaks to the determination these young women have to complete their education in spite of the obstacles they meet. Won't you make a donation to sponsor their studies and help them become the leaders and workers that Liberia desperately needs?  

Pakistan - Summer 2015 Update

As summer comes to a close, our program continues in full swing thanks to your support. Summers in this part of Pakistan are very hot, sometimes passing the 120-degree (F) mark. Our students are typically given a summer break from mid-June to mid-August, but it doesn‘t mean it’s just free time for everyone. Generally, our students in grades 6-8 are already through their annual exam and are in the new class if they have passed. They get loads of homework to do during the two months’ break. Students in grades 9 and 10 have taken exams, but the results have not been announced, so they are free during these vacations while they await word on their scores. Students in 11th to 14th grades are usually busy in their annual exams during these very months.

July is also the breaking of the fast of Ramadan and the beginning of the ‘meethi Eid’, or Sweet Eid festival. This is a time when families reunite, celebrate with food and fun, and infuse a sense of community.

Or colleagues at Bedari have also been very active in the villages during these months, not only supporting the core educational programs, but also delivering the self-growth programs that I mentioned in the last update. They have provided several updates in the past few weeks.

Testing Update

First, we have an update on an additional 24 students' national testing: 21 of them appeared for secondary school examination, and 3 of them appeared for graduation level examination.

Secondary School students: 18 girls passed their exams successfully and have moved to the next level, while two failed partially, they would have to reappear for two papers only. They would reappear for the two papers in their supplementary exam. (Supplementary exams are held for those students who fail partially (in one or two subjects), so that they do not have to wait for full one year to reappear.) There is one girl who failed her exam, and has dropped out of our program.

Graduation students:

Three girls appeared for exams; two of them passed successfully, and have moved out of our program. They would be replaced by new girls. One girls has failed two of her papers. She would reappear for the two papers in supplementary exams.

Higher Secondary Students: (Result Awaited)

Higher secondary is a level between secondary and graduation level. Students study for two years at higher secondary level, before they can go for their graduation. 7 of our girls appeared for higher secondary level exams, and their result is still awaited. We expect that their result would be announced in this month.

Student Profile

Bedari was also kind enough to provide profiles on a few students that we'll be sharing over the coming months. This time we have a wonderful letter written by a student named Irum (pictured below). We'll let her tell her story in her own words:

Irum and her Grandmother

Irum and her Grandmother

Hi… I am Irum, I am 14 years old living in remote village named Dharyala Kahoon in district Chakwal (Punjab, Pakistan). We are three siblings – me and my two elder brothers. We were living happily – that is what I remember from my early childhood. I was too young to understand the tricky situation, but I remember everything changed with my father’s death. I was just 3 years old then. I didn’t know what death meant; I was told father would not come home again. He had been taken back by Allah. I didn’t know why Allah needed him. Anyhow, there are so many questions we don’t find answers to them.

We moved to our grandfather’s house. My elder brothers could not cope with the new situation, and one by one both of them ran away, and never returned. In the meanwhile, my mother developed a relationship with another man. As it would not have been accepted here in our society, she decided to marry him secretly, and left the house one night without informing anyone. These incidents, one after the other, were too much for my grandpa. He was distraught, dejected, and heartbroken. Soon he died and his misery ended. It all happened within two years starting with my father’s death, and ending with my grandfather’s.

We were left all at our own – me and my grandmother. I was too young, and she was too old. My grandfather had left a small piece of cultivable land. My grandmother would rent it out, and we would manage our expenses through that small amount. The rent was not good enough as there was no irrigation system, and the yield depended on timely rains.

I went to the village school, which offered classes up to 8th grade. It is a public school with nominal fee, which my grandmother would manage easily. However, when I passed 8th grade, my grandmother told me,
‘Sweetheart! You are mature enough to understand that your old grandma cannot bear the cost of sending you to high school in Dulmial. You know I am too old, I may die any day. I don’t know what you do when you have no one to take care of you. I think I should arrange your marriage as soon as possible’.

I knew I would not be able to go to high school, and I had accepted it as my fate. But I was scared to hear the other plan my grandma had for me. I cried a lot, and got a promise from my grandma that she would not think of my marriage for at least another two years. She agreed, though still she did not know what would be my fate if she died.

In the meanwhile, Bedari arrived in our village with a plan to provide scholarships to girls who had performed well in their education in class 5or above. When I came to know about the details, and asked my grandma to talk to Bedari people, it was too late. They had already selected 31 girls, and would not accommodate more. I was dejected, but they put my name in the waiting list. I waited, waited and waited. One whole year passed like that.

I had lost all hope, and thought my secondary education was a closed chapter. That was when Uncle Tanveer (a member of our village committee) turned up at our home, and told my grandma that a girl had dropped out of Bedari’s project, and they could send Irum to high school. I was overjoyed at the news. Grandma readily agreed, and the next day uncle Tanveer took me to high school. I got admitted, the school administration provided me the books, and uncle Tanveer made arrangements for my pick and drop. It was again Uncle Tanveer who provided me old uniform of his daughter, though it did not fit well, but liked it very much. I receive scholarship amount in the first week of every month.

Now I go to school regularly. I have attended two Self-Growth Sessions, and learnt how to be assertive without being offensive, and how to negotiate with people. I loved that, and would make sure that I do not miss any of these sessions, these are so useful.

And yes, the best thing is … my grandma has not mentioned my marriage since I started going to school.

It's wonderful to hear these success stories, and to know that all our efforts are working in the field. I hope you share my excitement about the potential of this program.

On a more sobering note, we have sufficient funding residual from our initial project with Bedari to continue supporting our program through the remainder of this year, but will need to raise some additional funds going into the next school year. Please pass along the word about Girls Ed and our program if you are so inclined - you can share this website and blog or invite friends to follow us here on Facebook.

2015 Update from Tanzania

Thank you so much for supporting our recent program expansion to include girls in Tanzania! Through our partnership with Project Wezesha (www.projectwezesha.org), we are now supporting a group of young women in secondary school in western Tanzania.

The girls were honored to be selected in the summer of 2013 and were so excited when they received the items they needed to embark on their new school year. For some of them, that included mattresses! That’s right – a few of our girls did so well on their secondary entrance exams that they were selected by the government to attend boarding schools in various regions of the country. For the girls who stayed nearby, they were given other required (and perhaps unexpected) items – such as buckets, brushes, and hoes. Yes, that’s right – part of the civic engagement of being a student is taking care of your school grounds. (See the pictures of the girls with their swag.)

After the first 6 months, the girls had a varied set of reports to share with us. Some reports were a bit disheartening, as can be the case when we check in. Studies are challenging because books are scarce. Subject matter is difficult to learn because classes are taught in English (and they speak Swahili). But, through interviews with the girls this past summer, we did hear from them that they know, without question, that education is the ‘way forward’. They recounted the value of education to help them make their society better. They noted the importance of education to help their family with health related situations. They shared their ideas about how with education, they can do more to improve their lives. They also expressed that they are very happy and grateful to be going to school every day.

In December, Board Member Rai Farrelly visited the students in Tanzania. They were all smiles and giggles. Since November they have been receiving after school tutoring support in groups, receiving supplemental instruction in certain subjects to add to what they’re learning in school. For the girls, this has been instrumental for increased understanding of difficult subjects, such as chemistry, biology, and English. Their teachers are recent graduates from Project Wezesha’s scholarship program.

Thank you so much for your support! Because of you, these girls are in school as members of an academic community – trying (hard as it may be) to reach their educational goals and make their lives better!