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 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.