February 2016

Ten years of experience supporting girls’ education

A new direction in partnership with CAUSE Canada & McGill University

We have chosen to invest $300,000 over two years with CAUSE Canada to fund a peer literacy program and self-directed computer-based learning in rural Sierra Leone. This project will reach 5,000 students, half of whom are girls. An evaluation by McGill researchers will deepen our understanding of the project’s impact on learning outcomes.

Educational materials mean better quality learning

60 million girls feels strongly that new strategies are needed to ensure that disadvantaged children get a quality education. The objective of this project is to introduce additional educational materials to children, encourage their natural love and enthusiasm for learning and, ultimately, to improve learning outcomes.

The components of the project are as follows:

  • 100 peer literacy facilitators – local secondary school girls – will work with younger children on their literacy skills over a two-year period and encourage them to stay in school.
  • We will introduce 5,000 primary school children to after-school, self-directed computer-based learning using tablets in a local learning centre – a program that will be run by the schools’ Mothers’ Clubs. The children will be able to access interactive videos and exercises on basic literacy, math and science, including Wikipedia Academic, textbooks, agriculture and health information, music programs, African created e-books and more.
  • A research team from McGill University, led by Professor Sonia Laszlo, Associate Professor of Economics and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID), will analyse the impact of the project on learning outcomes.

For more information and a detailed outline of how this will work, please go to our website.

Focusing on technology is crucial

UNESCO statistics clearly show that, if we continue supporting education at the same rate as we have done in the past, it will take over 100 years for all girls to have access to a lower secondary school education.

60 million girls’ R&D team is dedicated to finding the best way to deliver quality education to marginalized children around the world. We believe that self-directed computer-based learning can enhance academic outcomes and help children develop a deep interest and motivation in learning. The cost of delivering high quality interactive academic content to an area without electricity or Internet access is a fraction of what it would cost to provide equivalent textbooks and encyclopedias. The RACHEL (Remote Area Community Hotspots for Education and Learning) -Pi (RPi) can be easily upgraded at any time and more content can be added and customized by using additional memory chips.

Furthermore, the Learning Centres will provide a base for self-directed learning for all ages and for different, practical day-to-day information for adults: literacy, agriculture information, prenatal and postnatal information for women, nutrition, health guidance, teacher training and so much more.

A small investment can have a big impact

Since our founding in 2006, 60 million girls has invested $2.1 million in 19 projects in 14 countries, directly impacting the lives of more than 15,000 girls and boys. Our $100,000 investments in Kenya and Indonesia led directly to larger investments from government agencies.

We couldn’t do it without our partners

Over the years, our partners, including the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Free The Children, CAUSE Canada, Handicap International, WUSC and War Child Canada, have given us tremendous insight into what works in girls’ education.

Our close relationship with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, McGill’s ISID and other members of the development community has helped us see what could be done more effectively to ensure a quality education for all children around the world.

On the technology side, we have worked with partners such as World Possible in California, Fantastic Phonics in Australia, and the developers from eXplorance, based here in Montreal, to create and add an off-line version of the Fantastic Phonics digital literacy program to the RPi.

How you can help

We are always looking for specific expertise and supplies to help get these educational initiatives off the ground. If you can help, please get in touch by email, phone or through our social media platforms. Our current needs are:

    • Tablets (300)
    • RACHEL-Pi (20)
    • Portable solar panels (20)
    • Help in reviewing potential new tech solutions
    • Digitizing printed books

Thank you for your support and your belief in the power of girls’ education.

December 2015

Goodwill towards all everywhere: Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto, Sherbrooke...

I am so very deeply touched by the great generosity pouring out from every city, town and village across the country as Canadians gear up to receive refugees in great numbers. This is us at our best: sharing the great fortune so many of us have by the simple fact of having been born in the right country at the right time.

Your generous support to 60 million girls, which helps to nourish the dreams of vulnerable children around the world, is a part of that same deep-seated kindness. Every child has the right to an education, and your contribution helps to expand lives, develop talents and strengthen communities, which ultimately bring equality, democracy and peace for everyone a step closer.

None of us ever chooses where we are born: into peace and democracy or into war and tyranny. It is the lottery of life. Yet, as we hear the refugees’ stories, we realize that most fundamental fact that we are all the same. We are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons wanting to fulfill ourselves, use our talents in ways that make us feel good, enjoy life, be safe and, above all, protect those we love.

Tie-Dye-Knit-ScarfEach gesture – a coat given, a scarf knitted, each offer of volunteer support, pro-bono services, being a friend, opening up a room, a home, sharing a meal – transforms our gratitude into something very tangible: to give what we hope we would be given if ever the roles were reversed.

My pride and absolute conviction that we, as a Foundation and as a country, are doing the right thing are unshakeable. Thank you for your support, for being the amazing person you are. The world needs you.

Wanda Bedard
President, 60 million girls Foundation

Why give to the 60 million girls Foundation?
By Tanya Guyatt

giftWe know that there are many worthy causes and many options open for you when considering which charities to support. We know what a tough choice it can be. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of what the 60 million girls Foundation has to offer.

Education creates change

First of all, we know that investing in education, especially for girls, has an important impact on all development initiatives. From economics, to health to social progress and political leadership, girls’ education is one of the most effective tools to work toward real, lasting, change. To read more…

Our 10th annual conference
By Lesley Stewart

WhatKBC 2 a brilliant way to celebrate our 10th annual conference! It began with a stunning and moving performance by the Kenyan Boys Choir. This was followed by our president’s address. Wanda Bedard described the Foundation’s many activities and achievements over the past nine years and this year in particular.

Craig 20151124-303

Then, we listened to our keynote speaker, Craig Kielburger. A passionate and motivating child rights activist, Craig traced the transformation of Free The Children over the last two decades. To read more…

July 2015

8 years later… By Wanda Bedard It was like a moment frozen in time. We were standing on the same spot where we had stood eight years ago in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. I was transfixed! I had used that image in so many presentations since 2007 – a sweeping view that looked out over the community, up towards the hills in the distance. Eight years ago, it was a photo of a few dozen mud-brick, grass-thatched houses, standing apart from one another and spread around the schools of Enelerai and Emorijoi. Today, with my travel companions, my daughter, Vida Fereydoonzad who was with me in 2007, and 60 million girls‘ friend and professional photographer, Martine Michaud, we saw that the mud-walled homes were still there. However, now, beside most of them, stand sturdy brick houses with metal roofs. There are gardens, clotheslines and drying racks, and hand-washing stations next to latrines. Water kiosks along the road provide fresh, clean water to the community, and chimneys vent the smoke from the kitchens.

And then we saw Monica’s house. We couldn’t believe it! Monica! Eight years ago, we had visited Monica’s small home where she had proudly set up a very small store – no more than a wood hut about a metre square to sell beading work done by herself and the women’s group she helped head. At the time, she was clearly a leader of the local mamas and fiercely determined to help provide for her family and ensure her children, including her daughter, went to school. Today, her home stands out in the Mara with its bright orange roof. You can’t possibly miss it as you make your way along to Free The Children’s Bogani guesthouses! What had happened? The answer, of course, is progress and the evidence of a community that has taken hold of new ideas and implemented them. The resulting impact on the families and community was visible everywhere. We learned that Monica now travels to many countries to talk about women’s empowerment and women’s issues in Africa. She is a strong leader and a sought-after speaker who shares how the women have been able to build a sustainable and supportive community. It was such a stark contrast. This positive transformation was reinforced during the next week as we had a chance to speak with the women, girls and families in the areas where Free The Children works with the Maasai, Kipsigi and Kisi communities. When we visited Enelerai Primary School in 2007, it was in the process of being completed. It is now bigger with new additions – a water station, a women’s empowerment building and well-used classrooms filled with children. We also saw the Baraka Health Clinic with its emergency services, pharmacy, laboratory, birthing centre and, soon, radiology and surgery rooms. It’s a clean, simple yet well-stocked and well-equipped series of buildings that would meet our standards in Canada! We also visited Oleleshwa Secondary School, the project in which we have invested $300,000 over the last two years and the main reason for our visit to Kenya. We were overcome as we were welcomed by a group of 30 girls who showed us around this innovative school. There are no students and teachers at Oleleshwa but, rather, learners and educators. Strong community and cultural values are evident in the many beautiful hand-painted murals and quotations throughout the school. But, these were also clear from our discussions with the girls. These young women are determined and hard-working, and they realize the immense potential of education. They have a daily schedule that runs from 4:30 am to 10 pm. They have a strong desire to succeed and dream of becoming engineers, doctors, teachers, writers, scientists and journalists. There is no doubt in our minds that the girls will achieve it all. The visit to Free The Children was just as inspiring as our visit the previous week in Uganda where we spent four days at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. Two years ago, 60 million girls supported the primary schools of Nyaka and Kutamba and, this year, we are raising $100,000 to fund the ongoing construction of the Nyaka Vocational Secondary School through our partner, the Stephen Lewis Foundation.


We were fortunate to spend our time in the company of Jennifer Nantale, Nyaka’s country director. Jennifer has a deep understanding of development issues, vast experience and a great passion and caring for the hundreds of children under her wing. We were left with the certainty that these children and their communities would be able to cope with a difficult reality: grieving grandmothers who must now care for up to eight young children orphaned by AIDS, finding sources of revenue to keep fragile families together, providing a safe home, getting the kids to school… The list is endless.

Farms provide fresh and nutritious food for the students and staff every day. The health clinic is open, not only to the students, but to the whole community. There are two full-time nurses and a doctor who works two days a week. We saw beautiful libraries complete with computer rooms and solar panels – the ideal spot for us to leave two Raspberry Pi Rachel devices (as we did with Free The Children). Jennifer and her staff immediately saw the impact of the content: Khan Academy Lite, Khan Academy health, hundreds and hundreds of e-books and textbooks, agricultural and health encyclopedias and Wikipedia offline. When you realize how long and how difficult it is to travel to these remote areas and the cost of books and textbooks, along with the lack of Internet access, the Rachel with its academic content and thousands of educational videos and tutorials is truly a small miracle. 

We were impressed and yet, at the same time, not surprised by the quality of the programs and the holistic approach that support these children. Free The Children and the Stephen Lewis Foundation are long-time partners of 60 million girls. Over the years, the thought and experience that go into the design of their community interventions have been clearly evident. However, it is amazing to be able to witness the impact first-hand, especially many years later. Of course, during our self-financed three-week trip, we saw so much more: gorilla trekking in the breath-taking Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the drive through the Mara safari-style with our Maasai guides, Wilson and Jackson, and visits to other local projects. We learned about new approaches and gained a better understanding and a different perspective on what works best to support a community. We had a wonderful visit at UNICEF Uganda’s global innovation centre in Kampala. There we traded notes and learned more about UNICEF’s research and pilot projects involving technology in education and self-directed learning.  Thank you for following us on Facebook during our trip and adding your many comments and likes. We felt closer to home and only needed to have each one of you with us to make the visit perfect! Take a look!!! We are proud to invite you to take a look at our new website at www.60milliongirls.org. In order to better support viewing on a tablet or smartphone, to ensure you can easily find information and to better highlight our projects, we have decided to make this exciting change.

Our deepest thanks go to Lesley Stewart, head of our communications team, for spearheading this project along with the technical help of Louise Sa, Patrice Belair and our wonderful graphic artist, Negin Atashband. A special word of thanks also to Martine Michaud for her generous pro bono support in providing such compelling photographs of 60 million girls’ projects from our recent trip to Uganda and Kenya.

Please let us know what you think. Is there information you’d like to see that isn’t there? Do you have any questions? Can you find everything you’re looking for? Contact us at info@60milliongirls.org. And, please don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for our blogs to receive the very latest news and articles on girls’ education and women’s empowerment. Save the date: Tuesday, November 24th – our 10th annual conference!

This year marks our 10th annual conference and we are excited to announce that Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children, will be our keynote speaker. Craig inspired us when he spoke at our second annual conference in 2007 and those who heard him will remember a committed and passionate activist. We are delighted to have him return, accompanied by the Kenyan Boys Choir. 60 million girls has partnered with Free The Children several times, in Kenya and India, to support education at both the primary and secondary levels. Craig will bring us up to date with these amazing projects!

We will be sending further details later. We are looking forward to seeing you soon!

February 2015

Our projects for 2015

Every fall, the 60 million girls team goes through the very difficult but fascinating process of choosing the projects we will fund for the upcoming year. In fact, the process is actually one that we work on year-round: meeting with new organizations specializing in girls’ education to gauge how we might work together as partners, attending conferences, talking with education and development specialists, following the latest statistics, trends and innovations related to education, keeping in touch with our past partners, and following up on the latest reports from projects about to be completed.

Throughout this process, we are continually learning. Learning about what works best in different contexts and in different communities. Learning how to mitigate risks in particularly difficult regions. We are continually looking at ways that our investments can have the greatest and most sustainable impact possible.

Since it was founded in 2006, 60 million girls will have supported 19 projects, including those for 2015, in 14 countries, for a total investment of $2.1 million – and always with administration costs of less than 1% of our donations. Over 15,000 children have been directly supported through these projects – girls (at least 50%) and boys– ensuring gender parity where it is often a very difficult target to attain.

And this year, we are very proud to announce the projects we will be supporting with your generous help.

Nicaragua with Change for Children

With first-time partner Change for Children, we will be investing $100,000 in education for indigenous girls in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua. Known as the “lungs of Central America”, Bosawas is the largest tropical rainforest north of the Amazon basin, covering 7% of Nicaragua’s land surface. And, it is home to the Miskito indigenous communities.
Our funding will enable the construction of two high schools for 200 students – of whom 52% will be girls – in the villages of Tuburus and Aniwas. There are presently no high schools in these villages. Girls, in particular, have had no access to secondary education as parents deem it too dangerous for them to leave their villages to study far away. Following the school construction, the Ministry of Education and the local municipality of Wiwili will cover the costs of teachers’ salaries. The indigenous government of Western Bosawas will provide the translation of curriculum materials and will cover the cost of the maintenance and repair of the schools. The project will also include an awareness campaign on the importance of girls’ education with a reach of 10,000 people over a two-year period.

Uganda with the Steven Lewis Foundation

Our second project is our fourth partnership with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and our second time supporting the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in Uganda. We are very pleased to be able to support the success of Nyaka’s two primary schools by investing in the construction of a high school developed specifically with the needs of girls and orphaned children in mind. A comprehensive and holistic approach will enable these children to be safe, surrounded by a supportive community. They will receive general and reproductive health information so important in adolescent years and, as well, they will be able to participate in vocational training.

Most importantly, girls will never be turned away if they become pregnant, as is the case at other high schools in the country – a policy that leaves a girl extremely vulnerable and marginalized with very limited ability to look after herself and her child. Giving her support and access to education will help ensure a much better outcome for both her and her child.

Your generosity goes a long way to making these projects become reality. Thank you for making the transformative investment in girls’ education.

Wanda Bedard
President, 60 million girls Foundation

Education, technology and Ebola
By Bev Carrick, co-founder of CAUSE Canada

The current Ebola crisis in West Africa has claimed thousands of lives and has caused significant economic and social disruption to communities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of January 12, 2015, there has been a total of 10,150 reported cases in Sierra Leone where the rates of infection have doubled over the past two months.

Fortunately, there have been a few positive outcomes as a consequence of this epidemic. Difficult-to-reach communities are embracing life-saving, preventative healthcare messages. The importance of hand washing and safe burial practices, as well as the truth about infectious diseases, is being taught to a broad and attentive audience.

Girl in classroom

The Sierra Leone government closed schools in June 2014 because of the Ebola epidemic. However, CAUSE Canada has continued to offer computer classes, library access and electric lights for nighttime reading in its Integrated Learning and Resource Centre in Kabala. There is a tremendous thirst to continue formal education on the part of young people in this remote, northern part of the country and the Integrated Learning and Resource Centre is operating at full capacity!

The 60 million girls Foundation has contributed funding to equip the Centre with laptop computers for these eager learners. Since there is no Internet service, Raspberry Pi technology is used as a server to provide access to Khan Academy’s math and science tutorials, in addition to e-books. Primary and secondary school students, as well as interested teachers, take advantage of these self-directed, e-learning opportunities, which are unique and greatly valued. In 2011, 60 million girls partnered with CAUSE Canada to introduce a Peer Literacy program in Sierra Leone where high school girls are trained in phonics each summer. Throughout the year, these girls tutor primary students every afternoon in basic literacy using games, flash cards and storytelling. In return, these young women receive support to continue their education.

Because of the Ebola epidemic, the government has made gatherings of more than 10 people illegal. However, the Peer Literacy Tutors have teamed up with local teachers to continue offering teaching clusters in homes for 4-6 students at a time. They are also using educational radio broadcasts to reach a broader audience of keen students! In this way, technology has helped offset some of the enormous difficulties caused by the Ebola crisis and continue the education process in Sierra Leone.

A pause to reflect…
By Lesley Stewart

Anita Chénier runs a yoga studio in Laval. She knows that research has shown that meditation and relaxation techniques have therapeutic effects on disease and pain. Anita also knows that research has demonstrated that education is one of the most effective community investments in the developing world. Her understanding of the importance of education was deepened by visits to India in 2012 and 2014. Anita travelled to Ladakh, a remote region in the northern part of the country. There, she visited three schools and witnessed, first-hand, the transformative effect that education can have on the children, their families and the whole community.
Last fall, Anita’s yoga studio held meditation evenings for a seven-week period and donated 30% of the revenues – just over $500 – to 60 million girls. Her generosity will help us continue to support education projects that will have a positive impact on both the girls and their communities.

60 million girls at Google
By Lesley Stewart

Thanks to the generosity of Google in Montreal, 60 million girls had the opportunity to host an event at their offices on February 5th. A sold-out crowd of close to 100 people joined us for this 5 à 7 cocktail on the theme of education and technology. Guests were able to see for themselves how we can use Raspberry Pi/Rachel educational software in self-directed computer-based learning. This technology greatly improves access to information and tutoring in a wide variety of subjects for students and teachers alike in the most remote areas of the world. There was also a fun demonstration of Google Glasses and how this technology could be useful to us. Our deeply felt thanks to Marie-Claude Élie for coordinating the event for us and for her enthusiastic support of the Foundation!

December 2014

Are we still 60 million girls?

Today, we’re confronted with too much bad news, too many negative stories about hurtful, harmful things going on in the world. It seems that’s all we ever hear.

2015 is the end date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were first established in the year 2000. Over a period of 15 years, the world community made a commitment to eight goals, which included eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.

When 60 million girls was established as a foundation in 2006, we took our name from the statistic at the time: over 110 million children, of primary school age, were not in school – every single year – and, of those children, two-thirds or 60 million were girls.

Where are we today?

The good news: The number of primary school-aged children who don’t attend school has gone from 110 million to 58 million since 2006. The number of out-of-school girls has dropped from 60 million to 32 million.

The great news: The drive to get girls into school has helped in the struggle to reach other MDG goals such as reducing poverty and decreasing maternal and infant mortality.

Educating girls is one of the most positive social forces to create change in a community. Statistics and research show it and we see it through our projects.

But simply attending primary school is not enough: children have to learn. Parents make enormous sacrifices to get their kids into school. They need to know that their children, girls and boys, will receive a quality education, so that their sacrifice will help their children lead better lives. This is why our R&D team is actively looking into the latest and most innovative practices in education around the world. Our self-directed computer-based learning pilot projects in Sierra Leone were a first practical trial for gauging the potential impact of technology in education. We know there is so much more we can do!

With your help, over the past eight years, we have invested $1.9 million in 17 projects in 13 countries, including our two projects this year – $100,000 to Care Canada for a project in Afghanistan and the second half of our two-year commitment of $300,000 to Free The Children for an all girls’ high school in Kenya. Since the beginning, we have maintained administration costs of less than 1%.

Together, we will continue to work towards discovering more effective and innovative approaches that will help lower the number of out-of-school children around the world and increase learning – the ultimate goal of education.


This holiday season, as you search for the perfect gift for that special person in your life, don’t underestimate the gift of supporting girls’ education and its impact on our future. It takes only a click… to make a donation and ask us to send a card in your name with the message of your choice.

We are part of a global network of activists making positive change – that’s good news for the whole world!

Wanda Bedard
President, 60 million girls Foundation

Our 9th annual conference
By Lesley Stewart

Our 9th annual conference was another unqualified success! Approximately 200 guests listened to our two keynote speakers, Bev Carrick of CAUSE Canada, and Sheena Bell, of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS).

Bev Carrick

Bev spoke about her organization’s efforts to improve access to education in Sierra Leone and the need for trained teachers to provide quality education. With the Ebola epidemic, all schools have been closed in Sierra Leone. However, our self-directed pilot project has allowed children to continue their education, using educational software provided by 60 million girls.

The UIS, the statistical branch of UNESCO, is in the business of gathering reliable and policy-relevant data on education, science and technology from every country in the world. Sheena explained the importance of this data in allowing organizations – governmental and non-governmental – to better construct appropriate programs for children. Both Bev and Sheena discussed the importance of using data and technology to improve literacy and provide vulnerable children with access to a quality education.

The silent auction amassed $10,925, which will help support our projects this year! At the end of the evening, Wanda presented a cheque of $280,000 to our partner in Kenya, Free The Children, and another of $80,000 to CARE Canada, our partner in Afghanistan.

The 60 million girls team

Our thanks to our many friends and supporters who made the evening such a success!

An inspiring afternoon in Vancouver
By Paula Gallagher

On Sunday, November 9th, the Vancouver chapter of 60 million girls Foundation hosted a group of 75 guests at Hycroft, the lovely heritage home of the University Women’s Club of Vancouver, to hear Stephanie Nolen, the acclaimed journalist, writer, activist and humanitarian.

Stephanie Nolen and Paula Gallagher

It was indeed an inspiring afternoon! Ms Nolen spoke of her experiences with the Prerna School in Bihar Province, India. This school is home to 125 Dalit girls who, without the founding of this school, would never have had access to education or the opportunities that an education can bring. Ms Nolen pointed out a simple truth as well: school is where these girls should be.

The stark reality is that, if they are not in school, then they are likely working, or married, and often without any options for their future. They would not have the pleasure of learning, the happiness of small successes or the possibility of learning an unlikely subject (for Dalit girls) such as self-defence. They would not experience the first exquisite taste of ice cream, or the enduring anticipation of comradeship and play.

Education for girls goes beyond the interpretation of statistics to the core of what makes life exceptional. All in the room were moved by Ms Nolen’s stories and pictures!

For many of the guests, this event was also an introduction to 60 million girls Foundation. We had many questions, many very positive remarks, and many people looking forward to the next event. Altogether, the afternoon was a great success!

60 million girls: Educate for a more just and balanced world
By Manuela Clément-Frencia

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts hosted our exhibition, 60 million girls: Education for a more just and balanced world, for one month. This exhibition reaffirmed education as a fundamental right for children and enabled the voices of some of the most vulnerable girls in the world to be heard.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal

This awareness-raising event was widely covered by the media and was well received by visitors to the exhibition. We conducted a series of interviews and found that people were very favourably impressed by the Foundation’s mission, as well as by the artistic and educational quality of the exhibition. In particular, visitors appreciated the beautiful photographs and were touched by the stories of the young girls. Our call to action elicited over 200 ideas to support education. We would like to extend our deepest thanks to all those who made this project possible. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts generously offered a prestigious space in which to showcase our work. We also would like to thank our project partners, Free The Children, World University Service of Canada/Windle Trust Kenya and Right To Play – the organizations that allowed us to meet the girls, their families and community members in the projects that we financed with your support. Finally, and most importantly, we would like to thank the girls who agreed to share their stories with both the Museum visitors and ourselves.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal

It should be noted that the photo-reportage was completed by Dominique and Maria Cabrelli, Arvind Eyunni, Jean-François Lemire and myself.

Strengthened by this unique experience, we will continue our commitment to support girls’ education, echoing the impassioned plea of Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, in her speech to the UN on July 12, 2013: “I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.”

September 2014

A busy fall!

While summer isn’t officially over yet, the feeling of fall is certainly in the air – especially with the start of another school year. This is always a poignant time for us as we think of the millions of children who have yet to take a step into a classroom. How can we best support access to school for all children, particularly girls? How can we ensure that the kids who do get to school are receiving a quality education?

We have four activities planned this fall to help share our answers to these questions!!

In mid-October, we will present the technical results of the two phases of our pilot project on self-directed learning in a rural community in Sierra Leone at Concordia University. Alumni and students of the Department of Education have been invited to attend. What an opportunity for us to discuss what we have accomplished and to exchange ideas with such knowledgeable individuals!

Starting on October 23rd, and running for one month, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will present an exhibition of photos from 60 million girls’ projects! Manuela Clément-Frencia, of our executive committee, visited four of our projects in India, Kenya and Ethiopia with a team of talented professional photographers. This is a unique occasion to see portraits of some of the girls from the programs your donations have supported!Admission to the exhibition is free. Read more about the exhibition in this MBAM press release.

sept2014_bev_carrickAnd, of course, there is our annual conference on Tuesday November 4th. We hope that you will attend to hear what we’ve been up to!! Our guest speaker will be Bev Carrick, co-founder of CAUSE Canada, our partner in Sierra Leone. Bev will share her vast development experience and talk more specifically about our project on girls’ education and our new pilot project. We will also be joined by a representative of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) who will talk about education statistics in the developing world – and the impact of the vast research and compilation of data being done on projects such as ours and on our vision for the future..

sept2014_stephanie_nolenNot to be outdone, our BC Chapter is organizing an amazing conference on Sunday, November 9th, in Vancouver, with guest speaker Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail. It would be difficult to find a more experienced and insightful journalist with such a deep interest in women’s issues and girls’ education.

So, the 60 million girls team has not been vacationing too much this summer as we prepare for all these events. We appreciate your support and hope to count on you to come to our annual conference and share information about our event with your network of contacts.

As you know, we spend less than 1% of revenues on administration. We don’t advertise or print brochures!! It is through word of mouth and your belief in these transformative projects that we can continue funding girls’ education! Bring a friend and watch us do even more!!

Wanda Bedard
President, 60 million girls Foundation



Collège Sainte-Anne – a truly international outlook!

Collège Sainte-Anne de Lachine has been a long-time supporter of 60 million girls. Together, we have worked on many activities, in particular, through its DéfiMonde (World Challenge) Program. Once again, this year, CSA has gone beyond just talking about making a difference to concretely putting their talents at our disposal. It has been instrumental in helping us further develop and test the technical support for our pilot project on self-directed learning in Sierra Leone. A big thank-you to Michel Twigg, Marc Gallucio and the whole CSA community for their enthusiasm and innovative ideas!



Fundraising with a flair

UniAction, founded by Thi Be Nguyen, one of our tireless volunteers, organized an elegant evening to support 60 million girls. The event took place on September 13th at the Chez Chine Restaurant at the Holiday Inn Select in downtown Montreal. 150 guests were regaled with a sumptuous 10-course Chinese dinner, a silent auction, an art exhibition, a fashion show featuring volunteers from the Foundation and, to culminate the evening, a raffle. In addition, two of our Olympic athletes, Joannie Rochette and Jennifer Jones were on hand to lend their support to the event. Guests who participated in the VIP cocktail party beforehand were able to have their photos taken with these star athletes.

At the end of the evening, a cheque for $25,000 was presented to Wanda Bedard. Our thanks to Thi Be and all those who participated in this amazing event. The proceeds will go a long way towards providing support for this year’s two projects in Kenya and Afghanistan.




Follow us!

60 million girls is committed to investing every dollar donated by you towards education projects that will have the greatest possible long-term and sustainable impact. However, we are always looking for ways to improve our visibility and to attract more followers. Please don’t hesitate to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on LinkedIn. We’ll look forward to you and your friends joining our ranks on all the social media at our fingertips!

July 2014

Save the date – Tuesday, November 4th – our 9th annual conference!

2015 is the target year for the completion of the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000. Where are we? Have we met the goals? Are we on target? What happens next?Join us for a revealing conversation with Bev Carrick about education in the developing world and how it has progressed in the last 15 years. Insights into our past projects and the challenges we may face in the future will also be discussed.Our keynote speaker, Bev Carrick, co-founder of CAUSE Canada, will discuss her foundation’s work in Sierra Leone over the past 25 years. She will also speak about girls’ education, as well as the two phases of our pilot project on self-directed computer-based learning in the community of Kabala. Bev will be joined by a member of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) team, based in Montreal, who will help us understand the reality and nuances behind world education statistics. These statistics enable us to target our investments in girls’ education and select projects in areas that will have the greatest impact for the largest number of students.We look forward to seeing you at this annual event and we hope that you will bring a friend! With less than 1% administrative costs, 60 million girls relies on our network of supporters – and new friends – in order to invest in the most transformative education programs for girls.Please mark down the date on your calendar!

Wanda Bedard
President, 60 million girls Foundation

60 million girls at the Museum
By Manuela Clément-Frencia

60 million girls is pleased to announce that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will be hosting a photographic exhibition on girls’ education from October 23 to November 23, 2014.

july2014_indian-girl© Dominique Cabrelli

This exhibition will present the portraits and stories of young girls who were met in the course of visits to the projects sponsored by 60 million girls in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and in the communities of Kamoda in India and Wuchale in Ethiopia.

The objective of the exhibition is to pay tribute to these young girls, who are true heroines in their daily lives. Their personal experiences highlight the determination and confidence that motivate them to succeed and to change their destiny – a fate that often seems preordained. The portraits capture the very essence of each young girl, as well as her dignity.

Both artistic and educational, this exhibition aims to raise awareness of the importance of education as a means of empowerment for young girls and as an instrument of change for the community as a whole.

The exhibition is the culmination of a photojournalistic project that was undertaken, on a volunteer basis, by Dominique Cabrelli, Arvind Eyunni, Jean-François Lemire and myself.

60 million girls would like to thank the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for providing this invaluable opportunity to present the Foundation’s projects through this photographic exhibition.

60 million girls in Vancouver

We are delighted to announce that Stephanie Nolen, the well-known writer and journalist, will be our keynote speaker at our Vancouver conference on November 9th. Ms Nolen is currently the Latin America bureau chief for The Globe and Mail and lives in Rio de Janeiro. Ms Nolen spent five years in India and, before that, another five years in Africa. She is also the renowned author of 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, a book that puts a human face on HIV/AIDS. The details of the conference will be announced soon.

Making a difference
By Natalie Karneef

I keep thinking about that starfish story. You know the one? About the man who, while wandering along a beach, finds a boy throwing starfish into the ocean. The man asks the boy what he’s doing, and the boy explains that he’s trying to save the starfish that have been washed up on shore and are dying from lack of oxygen. The man points out that there are thousands of starfish on this beach, and hundreds of beaches just like it. He tells the boy he’s not going to make any difference. The boy picks up another starfish, throws it back in the water, and says, “I made a huge difference to that one!”
When 60 million girls decided to support a project with the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project in 2012, its founder, Jackson Kaguri, spoke at our annual conference that year. I never forgot the stories he shared and, two years later, couldn’t ignore my need to stop living for myself and do something to help. I was concerned about volunteering abroad though – I worried that, as someone with no medical, health or teacher training, I wouldn’t be of any use. Wanda, our president, recommended I get in touch with Jackson and, after a half-hour phone call, in which he explained that, as a writer and media person, I had skills that were very much needed at Nyaka, I was sold.I’ve been to a developing country before, but it’s so easy to forget how incredibly easy we have it in the West. Arriving in Kambuga, I seesawed between trying to cope with what I know now was intense culture shock, and waking up to how difficult life is for people here. It was overwhelming at first, and I really did wonder, for a few days, if there was any point in my being here at all.

Then I began to work with some of the secondary school kids, teaching them about blogging and writing. I helped them to tell their stories, and each connection I made touched me to the core, and helped me keep going when things got lonely, which they still do. I met a boy who dreams of being a filmmaker, a girl who wants to be a journalist, and was able to give advice and guidance to both. I taught kids about the Internet, which many have little or no access to, and documentary filmmaking, and the importance of media and communicating. I helped edit blog posts written by kids who’d lost one or both parents to AIDS, who want nothing more than to get educated so they can live a better life, but who are up against so many obstacles, caused by ignorance and lack of funds.If you consider how many people on this earth need help, I’m not making any discernible difference at all. But when 17-year-old teenagers tell you that meeting you has changed their life and given them vision, you know that not only have you made a huge difference to them, but that they will likely go on and make a difference for others. Goodness spreads. Not only that, I’m getting to see, firsthand, the enormous, incalculable difference organizations like 60 million girls, and their partners, are making in people’s lives. Education is the most sustainable, most important and most valuable commodity a person, family, community and country can have, on every level. I’m seeing the effects of sex education, reading, writing, and simply having the support and encouragement to stay in school, in a society where many elders still don’t understand the importance of education. One Nyaka graduate told me about how, after he lost his mother, he was headed to become a herder of other people’s cattle. Now, at 19, he’s on a path to medical school. He says he plans to help people who can’t afford healthcare.The power of education, and of help, is exponential. Jackson and the school, and the communities it affects, are making waves that are reaching further and further. Jackson is a hero to the kids, and they want to be heroes to others. It’s a cycle that will only grow stronger with time, and I’m honoured to have been a small part of it.

july2014_natalie1 july2014_natalie2



A fundraiser for wine lovers
By Lesley StewartJeannette Janzen and François Richard are passionate supporters of education and of 60 million girls. They strongly believe that inadequate quality education for girls is one of the root causes of poverty in the developing world. When offered the opportunity to support the Foundation, they invited friends and colleagues to contribute to us and all the while enjoy a VIP evening at the Salon Cocktails, Bières Importées et Vins d’Été at Place Forzani in Laval on February 28th. The evening was a great success and Jeannette and François were joined by many friends. At the end of the event, both spoke eloquently about the mission and the work of 60 million girls. Their generosity and that of their friends will help us support our two projects in Kenya and Afghanistan. 

Small and targeted
By Lesley Stewart

In a recent article of The Globe and Mail, Christopher Ragan, an associate professor of economics at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, wrote about Canada’s commitment to foreign aid (0.3% of GDP) and its efficacy in moving developing countries out of poverty. There is a debate over how to approach foreign aid development. William Easterly believes that there is a constructive role for small, targeted projects that are both simple to implement and easy to evaluate. However, if there is a difference of opinion on how to spend the money, there is general agreement on where to spend it: investing in girls and women.Mr. Ragan cites 60 million girls as a case in point. Our small foundation targets girls’ education, carefully screens prospective partners and their projects and, once the selection process has been completed, ensures that there is an assessment of the projects’ performance. The Foundation, completely manned by enthusiastic volunteers, spends only 1% of its budget on administration costs. Mr. Ragan sums up his article with these thoughts:[…] if Mr. Easterly is correct that small and targeted projects are the most effective way to promote economic development, then maybe we should see the work of groups such as 60 million girls as a superior alternative. This is charity at its best.

March 2014

What we’ve learned…
By Wanda Bedard

Over the past 8 years, 60 million girlshas invested $1.9 million to support 17 projects in 13 countries, helping over 10,000 children, most of whom are girls. We are proud of these accomplishments, but our greatest achievement, I believe, is the knowledge we have gained during this period. What we have learned:

    1. The vital importance of great partners. Through their many experiences in the field of girls’ education, our partners have been a tremendous source of information and expertise to us. It is through these strong, committed, open and transparent relationships that we have learned what works best, and when and how to proceed. Each partner is unique in approach and expertise and we have the advantage of seeing the issues from many varied perspectives. We are learning from the best practices of the top supporters of girls’ education in the world!
    2. Networking. We are constantly talking, meeting and, most importantly, listening to a great variety of people from different areas of expertise in development. Whether it is the economics of poverty, issues and challenges in literacy and numeracy, governance concerns, accountability, health, empowerment – each area of study brings with it new perspectives on what makes an effective program.
    3. Think outside the box. Why in the world are Maasai warriors carrying cell phones??? Mobile technology has transformed communication in developing countries in ways that were unimaginable, even 10 years ago. It is amazing that these countries were able to skip a whole generation of technology and jump past landlines directly to cell phones! Can we rethink education in rural areas in the same way? The world has changed. Does education still have to be traditional in approach? Can we do it better?
    4. Networking.Did I mention this already? Since the work of the foundation is constantly on our mind, we end up discussing education issues with everyone we meet from IT specialists, neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, teachers, economists, artists, engineers and designers, who all bring a fresh perspective and a wealth of problem-solving skills.

Our accumulated knowledge and small flexible structure enable us to leverage what we do best into innovative approaches. If you were at our conference in October, you may remember that I spoke about some USB keys that were on their way to Sierra Leone that very night. They were part of Phase 1 of a low-cost pilot project we developed with our partner, CAUSE Canada, called “self-directed computer-based learning in a rural environment”. We were able to reach our very modest initial goals and implement the use of a math tutorial program called KA Lite for 60 high school girls in Kabala. We are now in the process of defining Phase 2, which will reach hundreds of students over several months, and measuring its impact on their National Exam results. This will give us more insight into delivery methods for self-directed learning. All absolutely exciting stuff to help support academic achievement with new low-cost, user-friendly technical solutions!

Our 2014 campaigns!!

Only with you, can we continue to support our next project campaigns for 2014!! We will continue the second year of our two-year commitment of $300,000 to Free The Children’s girls’ high school in Oleleshwa, Kenya. This fabulous project is the continuation of our earlier investment of the construction of the Oloosiyioi primary school in the Maasai Mara. The young graduating girls, in particular, had very limited opportunities to continue their education in high school. Oleleshwa provides a superb environment for these intelligent and determined girls to fulfill their full potential in this well-equipped and innovative school.

march2014_careWe are also continuing our past support of education in Afghanistan. The original project, that we supported in 2008, consisted of developing community-based schools and providing female teacher training just as children were flooding back into the school system after the fall of Taliban rule. Our new project, with CARE Canada, will focus on the construction a much-needed school building in Khost Province and a community commitment to work within the surrounding hub school system, as well as developing school improvement plans in this area. Girls in Afghanistan are still at the very bottom of most education indexes in the world. Despite the poor statistics, parents are clamouring for safe permanent spaces for their girls in order to send them to school. This project is an opportunity to support these very vulnerable girls and help them transform their lives.
Whose truth? What kind of reconciliation?
By Lesley Stewart
McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID) will hold an international conference on March 13-14, 2014. Its purpose is to explore the factors that condition the success of truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs). TRCs have been established in many countries, including Canada, to acknowledge past historical human rights abuses with the specific goal of ensuring that these injustices will not be repeated. There are now almost 30 TRCs around the world. ISID’s conference will provide a forum in which they can be explored in a comparative manner. Among the many eminent speakers will be Bev Carrick, Executive Director of CAUSE Canada, our partner in Sierra Leone. She will offer her insights into how her organization has attempted to mitigate the effects of a 10-year civil war through socio-economic reintegration of war amputees and child soldiers and reconstruction projects, including rebuilding education infrastructure.
Following Wanda…
To celebrate International Women’s Week, our president, Wanda Bedard, will be the keynote speaker at McGill University’s Muriel V. Roscoe lecture, to be held on March 6th. She will follow this with a talk at John Abbott College on March 10th, as part of its Women and Gender Studies Program.
Inequity in education
What does inequity in education look like? Gender, place of birth and socio-economic status will dictate a child ‘s educational success, both present and future. These infographics, taken from the latest UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report, illustrate well these issues. march2014_unesco3 march2014_unesco2

September 2013

Don’t forget to bring a friend!
By Wanda Bedard
60 million girls’ 8th annual conference will be held on Monday, October 21st, from 6 to9 pm, at l’Ermitage on the campus of Collège de Montréal.

sept2013_01Our guest speaker will be Caroline Ouellette, three-time Olympic Gold champion and member of Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team, team member for the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi and spokesperson for Right To Play, our partner for the project we are supporting this year in Ethiopia.

Caroline’s personal journey to excellence in a male-dominated sport is due, in good part, to strong female mentors and role models, her family’s support and an indomitable spirit. Her deep belief in the power of sport to develop physical strength and health, along with her experience as a member of a goal-oriented and greatly successful team, helped define her self-confidence, leadership, values and communication skills as well as her strong academic performance. Realizing the benefits that sport and play can have for all children has led Caroline to become a passionate ambassador for Right To Play’s work supporting education.

The project in Ethiopia uses Right To Play’s proven program of engaging girls and boys in sport at school to reduce dropout rates and increase a positive learning and sharing environment for all.

Bring a friend with you to the conference to hear the eloquent story of Caroline’s amazing career and community commitment and help spread support for that most vital investment: girls’ education.


60 million girls and McGill’s ISID

It is with great honour that Wanda Bedard recently accepted a three-year term on the Advisory Board of McGill’s Institute for the Study in International Development (ISID).

The creation of ISID in 2008 reflected a commitment to building bridges between McGill University and the international development community through a unique focus on multidisciplinary research that is intended to contribute directly to better evidence-based development policies and practices. In this way, ISID hopes to find practical solutions to some of today’s most pressing development challenges. It does so by bringing McGill’s wealth of resources together with the ultimate goal of maximizing synergies and connecting the world of the academic with that of development practitioners — government officials, international bodies, the private sector and the NGO community that actively promotes a wide variety of initiatives on the ground.

ISID also offers a successful executive education certificate program in International Development that will take place in Montreal from October 21-25 entitled International Development: Bridging the Worlds of Theory, Policy and Practice.

60 million girls is proud to be part of McGill’s ISID Advisory Board and be able to profit from the invaluable experience of the distinguished board members and ISID’s faculty.


Two girls, two lives
By Lesley Stewart

If you have ever wondered what difference an education can make, then watch the short video Two girls, two lives to answer the question. It’s the story of two girls, Mary and Susan, born on the same day in very humble circumstances. But, though their beginnings may be similar, the paths their lives take are very different. As little Susan walks up the steps to her school, Mary climbs to the top of garbage heap. As Susan pores through books and learns how to read and write, Mary ekes out a living by sifting through refuse. At the age of 24, they meet. Mary brings her sick and dying baby to the hospital where Susan works as a nurse. Both lives are poignantly illustrated and the differences are stark. Education makes a difference!


Conflict sensitive education
By Manuela Clément-Frencia

Today, 1.5 billion people live in conflict-affected and fragile contexts, and about 70% of this number have seen conflict since 1989. In these conflict zones, 20 million girls are out of school, and they represent only 30% of refugees enrolled in secondary school.

It is in this context that the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) of UNESCO and the International Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) held a high-level symposium entitled High-Level Symposium on Conflict-Sensitive Education – Why and How? on April 8th at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The symposium was attended by about 200 participants, representing ministers of education and other government bodies, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, bilateral development organizations, the private sector, civil society organizations, as well as those working in the field. The 60 million girls Foundation was privileged to attend this event (this participation was voluntary).

This opportunity allowed us to better understand the challenges facing conflict-affected populations and governments and learn about the initiatives and education programs adapted to countries in crisis. Furthermore, it confirmed the Foundation’s decision to support two education and leadership projects, in 2008 and 2011, in the refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya and Dzaleka in Malawi, in collaboration with our partners WUSC (World University Service of Canada) and Windle Trust Kenya.

The symposium’s framework included guiding principles and tools to support education policies and programs. The following are some examples: “Ensure that the programs do not intentionally favour one group over another”; “Protect teachers and students from attacks and recruitment into armed forces”; and “Provide psycho-social protection”. This framework was accompanied by a statement that reinforces the important role of education as a means of peace building, violence prevention and resilience of populations.

This unique learning opportunity will allow 60 million girls to continue to choose the most effective and most promising projects for girls and make the best investment for a quality education that is relevant, safe and transformative.

June 2013

An impact greater than our size!
By Wanda Bedard
In 2008 and 2011, 60 million girls invested in the remedial classes for girls in primary school project in the refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya and in Dzaleka in Malawi with our wonderful partner World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and, through them, with Windle Trust Kenya (WTK). Our total investment of $200,000 gave hundreds of young girls access to extra class hours to enable them to successfully complete 8 years of elementary school. Our funding also provided a number of high school bursaries for the girls.The program was very successful and enthusiastically welcomed by the girls. Despite being already burdened by a heavy domestic workload, the girls squeezed in extra hours in their long days and found the energy to study more for that life-changing opportunity to continue their education.Just this past month, WUSC shared the best news imaginable. Because of the success of these projects we funded, WUSC and WTK were able to secure £12 million (close to $20 million CAD) of new funding from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to continue this work on a much larger scale for 3 years!! This new program, Kenya Equity in Education Program (KEEP), will improve girls’ participation and achievement in Dadaab and Kakuma and the surrounding communities. Our contribution and deep belief in WUSC’s program and partnership have resulted in a hundredfold leveraging effect – a financial impact so many times greater than what we could have achieved ourselves!

60 million girls is constantly looking at ways to continue to leverage our experience and fundraising capabilities. In the past year, we have created an R&D team within the foundation. The objective of this team is to discover, research and understand those practices that are the most effective, the most innovative and the most sustainable to ensure girls’ success in education in the developing world. We feel that 60 million girls’ greatest impact will come from the flexibility and creativity of our model: an “entrepreneurial’’ approach to development from our ever-growing volunteer network of education specialists, academics, researchers, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, in conjunction with our program partners.

A $200,000 investment resulting in a $20 million donation says a tremendous amount about the impact of choosing great partners with innovative approaches in support of girls’ education.

Save these dates
By Vida Fereydoonzad
Our annual conference on October 23rd at 6 pm at l’Ermitage, Collège de Montréal: An in-depth look at our project in Ethiopia using sport and play as a basis for increased academic attainment for girls, self-confidence, leadership and improved peer relationships.The 4th annual 2G2 soccer event on June 16th at Dorset Park, in Baie D’Urfé: Get your soccer shoes shined and your game face on! Our soccer event is right around the corner and competition is fiercer than ever this year. We have returning teams that want to claim 1st place but also new teams joining that want to add to that challenge. Just want to have fun in the sun? Everyone is welcome to participate. Teams will be mixed!How it works: We ask that teams of about 10 players register to play 6 vs 6 outdoor soccer. By registering for $20 per player, you are guaranteed a minimum of 3 games and a day of exercise and fun. For more information, please contact me at vida.fereydoonzad@hotmail.com. Spread the word and come play for a good cause!

Thank you to Lakeshore Soccer that continues to support this event.

Lunch with Marc Kielburger
By Paula Gallagher
On April 8th, the BC Chapter hosted an intimate lunch and conversation with Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children, Me to We, author, activist and Canadian icon. The event was held at the Canadian Centre for Peace on a beautiful spring day – the perfect setting for an inspiring afternoon. Marc’s presentation introduced the audience to Free The Children’s philosophy, as well as to their very forward thinking activities of social enterprise and community involvement, not only in their international projects but also here in Canada, and especially among youth.This year, we are partnering with Free The Children on a project in Kenya. We were, of course, very interested to hear all about the Oleleshwa Girls’ High School in the Maasai Mara region. Marc was able to give us a firsthand account, in addition to many pictures and personal anecdotes. His presentation reconfirmed for all of us why girls’ education is so important. The audience was totally engaged!Everyone present who wished to converse with Marc had the opportunity to do so. In fact, I’m not sure he had much time to eat! He is a most gracious and inspiring young man, a terrific role model, and one of the busiest people I have ever met! It was gratifying for all present to realize how much he and Free The Children value the support of 60 million girls Foundation and share the goal of girls’ access to education worldwide.

It was a wonderful day!

Salone, Sierra Leone – February 2013

By Wanda Bedard
For a country that went through a devastatingly brutal 10-year civil war that ended in 2002, what we saw was breathtakingly positive!This past February, four members of 60 million girls travelled, at our own expense, to Koinadugu District in northern Sierra Leone to visit projects we have funded with our partner, CAUSE Canada. Negin Atashband, our graphic artist par excellence, my daughters and 2G2 specialists, Vida and Liah Fereydoonzad, and myself suspended comfort (!!), distance and time to immerse ourselves for 10 days in the reality of life in the town of Kabala, population 15,000.With an average temperature of 35° C, no electricity (i.e. no fans, no air conditioning, no ice cold drinks), road potholes that would make Montrealers proud, we’d have to say that life was more “rustic’’ than we are used to. But the welcome by Bev and Paul Carrick, co-founders of CAUSE Canada, their staff and all the others whom we met – the hundreds of students, teachers, principals and mothers – greatly compensated for a little stickiness, heat and dust!

If you take a glance at education and health statistics for Sierra Leone, you quickly realize that access, gender parity, graduation rates and maternal mortality are among the worst in the world. And yet, what we witnessed in Kabala was surprising and much more positive than you would expect. In the elementary schools, there were at least as many girls as boys in the often overflowing classrooms. Sometimes, girls outnumbered the boys. Classes were full even up to grade 6 – the last year of primary school in Sierra Leone. In high schools, we saw close to even numbers of girls and boys.
june2013_01We met the group of Peer Literacy Facilitators we are supporting with our funding. This group of 15 to 20 high school girls spend 8 weeks during the summer training to learn how to teach reading and phonetics to elementary school classes for 4 hours per week from September to June – in return for access to computers for a full day on Saturdays and support with their high school fees. These girls are incredibly motivated and hardworking and also serve as role models for the young girls and boys they work with in the elementary schools.
june2013_02We also met groups of women who are part of the Mothers’ Clubs in the primary schools. With an initial grant of $125 for a school maintenance fund, these women have increased the grant to $500 in 1 year in one school and to over $4,000 in 3 years at another school. The money is used to buy equipment, desks, maintain the school, provide a daily meal through cooperative gardens, support new programs – whatever the school committee feels is most important for the school. Based very much on some of the most successful principles of micro-finance, the Mothers’ Clubs are an amazing, sustainable source of support for the schools.

If what we saw was in great contrast to what world statistics for the country would indicate, it isn’t hard to understand that it is in great part due to CAUSE Canada’s successful partnership with the communities in Koinadugu District. CAUSE Canada has been in the area for over 25 years – including during the civil war during which CAUSE Canada had a paid staff of 75. In fact, during our stay, this solidarity with the people of Sierra Leone was highlighted by the presentation of an Honorary Doctorate to Paul Carrick by Sierra Leone’s University of Makeni.

Bev and Paul were exceptional guides during our visit. Their openness, cultural sensitivity, deep belief in social justice and “entrepreneurial’’ spirit were in great evidence everywhere – not to mention the fact that we were able to take advantage of their combined 60+ years of development experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America by asking literally hundreds of questions and soaking up their amazing stories.

I personally learned so much – not only about the barriers, constraints and difficulty of delivering development programs – but perhaps more about the opportunities for great sustainable and beneficial change hand in hand with the local community.

Our very deepest thanks to CAUSE Canada for their outstanding work, their deep commitment to positive change and support, and for their warm welcome. Our investment could not be in better hands!

Education at a crossroads
By Tanya Guyatt
Teaching children to think creatively has never been more critical. In a world of fast-paced changes where what we know is becoming less important than how we are able to learn and to adapt, Sugata Mitra is being touted by many as a new visionary. He says that “schools as we know them are obsolete”. Instead, he wants to create a “School in the Cloud” for self-directed Internet-based learning. In February, he won the $1 million TedTalks award.

Mitra’s premise is that children are naturally curious and that, with minimal (if any) teacher supervision, they are capable of teaching themselves. He called this a Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE). A “granny mentor” via Skype need only give a group of children an issue to study and then provide encouragement. They will figure out the rest.

The impetus for SOLE occurred in 1999 when Mitra put a computer in a “hole in the wall” giving free access to the children of a New Delhi slum. After several months, he discovered that groups of children had taught themselves enough English to use the mouse and browse the web. He half-jokingly says that the children’s only complaint was that the processor was not fast enough! Mitra repeated his experiment across the country, sometimes equipping the computer with advanced chemistry lessons to see if the children were able to teach themselves the concepts. They were, and an idea was born.

Mitra’s research has interesting applications, particularly for regions where teachers are hard to find. If given the tools for learning, essentially a computer with a broadband connection and Skype to access a “granny mentor”, can children in developing countries and around the world learn independently?

SOLE is not a panacea for improving access and quality of education in all rural areas, but it is an interesting path to a new way of seeing education. And, many of these innovative ideas can be modified for areas that still don’t have access to broadband Internet. It is clear that it is exactly those areas that are the most isolated and poor that will see the greatest improvement in schooling results.

That said, the use of technology in educating children is here to stay and there are many ways – besides brick and mortar – to bring the lessons to the children. The Khan Academy’s online tutorials, for example, are extremely popular. Its YouTube channel has more than 256 million total views. The Khan Academy aims to overhaul the traditional classroom environment. It provides students with online testing software that grades assignments and even encourages those struggling with the concepts.

Other ideas and concepts abound. Yoza, a South African initiative, provides stories for children and youth that can be downloaded for free on their mobile phones. A recent report, called eTransformAfrica, looks at different ways information technology can be harnessed to improve people’s lives, including through education. UNESCO has promulgated a declaration on open learning, a related issue that would give people access to learning materials over the Internet for free.

Learning is at a crossroads. There are so many exciting opportunities for children, particularly for those in the most remote and disadvantaged corners of the planet.

The sky is the limit
By Lesley Stewart
On September 12, 2012, Dormez-vous held its third annual golf tournament, Sky is the Limit, in support of 60 million girls. Employees, sponsors and friends of Dormez-vous and Sleep Country Canada were invited to participate in the golf tournament, held at the Whitlock Golf and Country Club in Hudson, and they came from across Canada.Organizer Lynn Martel, Vice-President of Dormez-vous, ensured that everyone enjoyed the day. And, what a day they had! A beautiful golf course, brilliant sunshine, contests, prizes and surprises! That evening, Wanda Bedard, our president, spoke of the need for quality education for children in the developing world. She also spoke of the transformative effect that girls’ education has on the lives of the women, their families and their communities.Dormez-vous has a strong tradition of giving back to the communities in which it operates. Donating to an international cause represented a bit of a departure for the company. However, Lynn felt strongly that our mission of making education available to all was one that should be embraced. The generosity of the many golfers that day raised almost $13,000 and will allow us to support this year’s projects in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Creativity and generosity go hand in hand
By Lesley Stewart
Queen of Angels Academy, an all girls’ high school in Dorval, has a history of giving. Each year, QAA chooses a charitable foundation for its Lenten project and, once again, 60 million girls is the recipient of the students’ generosity. This is not the first time that QAA has chosen our foundation. In 2009, QAA raised over $9,000 to support our project in Honduras and, again last year, over $7,000 for our project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.This year, QAA has chosen to support our project in Kenya, the construction of a girls’ secondary school in Oleleshwa, in partnership with Free The Children. To launch the fundraiser, our president, Wanda Bedard, described the transformative effect that education can have on the girls, their families and their communities. The students enthusiastically embraced fundraising for the project and launched a myriad of creative and innovative activities. They sold ring pops, chocolate bars and smoothies, organized a pyjama day, a “cake-off” competition and a raffle and the Sec 5s held a sleepover – among dozens of other activities.What enthusiasm and generosity! QAA girls are making a real difference for the girls in Kenya.

Gens de cœur
By Wanda Bedard
Thank you for your votes that came in by the hundreds for the Radio-Canada/Manuvie contest – Gens de coeur. While it was very close, we were just short of the number of votes needed to win the $20,000 donation. The honour went to a wonderful and dedicated young woman, Véronique Bigras, for her work in palliative care.The contest provided 60 million girls with great visibility and, of course, with a much appreciated donation of $1,000 from Manuvie.Thank you for your enthusiastic support, for sharing the event with your networks and for your innumerable e-mails of best wishes and success. What a team we make – together!