Education for Rural Girls
Written by Becky Rosaler on January 27, 2015 in Sower
This article originally appeared in the Winter Sower. If you missed it, read on.
As a young girl, Mrs. Jim Lawan was uprooted from life as she knew it when her family moved from Myanmar (Burma) to a border village in Thailand. Her years of attending school were cut short as needs at home took priority over her education. Her parents required her to help to care for her siblings and grow the food they needed to survive. Mrs. Lawan made it through fourth grade, an elementary education that was to sustain her for the rest of her life.
Mrs. Lawan’s story is not an isolated incident when it comes to the priority of education for young girls. For these adolescents, an education holds the power to unleash great potential. International conversations are buzzing about the right to education. Funding is being allocated to keep girls around the world in school longer. Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize shows that the global community is waking up to the importance of education.
In a September 2014 interview with TIME Magazine, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard shared, “I think across the world, as we talk about women in developing countries, there’s been increasing recognition that empowering women and girls is a key change agent for development. …Education is powerful, which is why some people want to stop it and why we should feel so passionate about assuring that it occurs.”
BURDEN OF TIME
Nearly 3 billion people—close to half the world’s population—cook their food over fire fueled by wood or charcoal. Women are the primary collectors of firewood and as trees become more and more sparse they are forced to walk further from the house. Walking is the primary mode of transportation, which expends a great amount of time and energy. Because most rural communities lack water infrastructure, the responsibility of fetching water also falls on women. When moms don’t have time for these household activities, young girls shoulder the work. As was the case for Mrs. Lawan, parents often pull their oldest daughters from school to watch younger siblings while they pursue income-generating activities outside of the house.
Back in Thailand, Mrs. Lawan worked as a day laborer before getting married. In 2003 she partnered with Plant With Purpose Thailand. Thailand’s program focuses on women’s rights and helped Mrs. Lawan work toward greater opportunity. Through her Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), she began saving money and eventually took out a loan to start a shop. Today, her family is financially stable and can afford to send their children to school. As a mother of two girls, Mrs. Lawan is committed to seeing her daughters grow up and complete their education.
AN UNEXPECTED OUTCOME
Long-term solutions to rural poverty take time as individuals, families, and communities are empowered to create change. Plant With Purpose monitors program impact and every three years conducts an extensive Impact Evaluation across the six programs. Data is collected in household surveys of participating and nonparticipating households. In this year’s Impact Evaluations, Plant With Purpose saw expected program outcomes like greater crop yields, healthy soil, and increased savings among partnering families. Along with these results, a new and unexpected outcome surfaced. For households participating in Plant With Purpose’s programs, there is a significant increase in the number of girls attending secondary school. This means our programs are equipping families to send their girls to school and keep them there, an outcome worth celebrating. With increased education comes increased economic opportunities in the form of both jobs and wages. The social impacts of education for girls are also significant: females with an education marry later, have fewer children, and are less likely to engage in crime or fall into the trap of human trafficking.
There are a number of possible explanations for this outcome. Plant With Purpose is providing solutions to the time-trap activities that keep girls out of secondary school. By planting fuel trees in close proximity to households, less time is spent collecting firewood. Analysis of the impact evaluations show that in most of the communities where we work, water sources are closer to partnering households. This could be due to constructed cisterns, revitalized watersheds, and greater awareness of their natural resources. Family gardens also offer a source of income that is close to home, allowing mothers of young children to tend to their gardens and their children simultaneously. Economic activities such as saving money through VSLAs or developing small businesses provide the finances to keep daughters in school.
SEWING FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL
Sara Mtui in Tanzania has experienced this freedom through Plant With Purpose. Young and full of potential, fifteen-year-old Sara lost both of her parents unexpectedly, quickly making her the breadwinner for her family. However, the cooking, cleaning, and cutting grass for cattle ceased to provide sufficient income. After fifteen years of struggling to make ends meet, she found a small glimpse of hope.
Sara heard about Plant With Purpose’s programs and decided to join the local VSLA group. The potential for new sources of income pushed her to implement what she was learning, and she quickly began saving, building credit, and farming organically. As her resources compounded, she nurtured a tree nursery of over 4,000 tree seedlings. When her family garden produced ripe and organic vegetables, sold the produce as well as the seedlings to further increase her financial security.
Through various Plant With Purpose trainings, Sara discovered an interest in entrepreneurship and began contemplating the skills she could use to start a business. After shadowing a local tailor named Mama Happy, Sara decided to apprentice under her and learn to sew clothes. After two years of training, Sara was ready to sustain a successful business.
Sara took a loan from her savings group that enabled her to purchase a sewing machine and rent a room for her shop. With her small business up and running, her financial concerns began to subside. The added income has provided the money for her two younger sister’s school fees. They’ve continued their secondary educations with dreams for the future. Meanwhile, Sara continued learning through Plant With Purpose trainings and utilizes her own gifts to sustain her family and give back to her community.
Plant With Purpose offers opportunity for parents and guardians to receive an alternative education, bringing stability to the family unit. Parents are able to get their feet under them, raise their economic standing, and provide greater opportunities for their children. As their adolescent daughters continue to add years to their educations, dreams for their futures evolve. By God’s grace, these young women will grow to influence and impact their families, communities, and countries.