60 million girls president Wanda Bedard and 3 other members of the 60 million girls team recently went to the Koinadugu region of Sierra Leone, where 60 million girls is supporting a 2-year project with CAUSE Canada.
We asked Wanda to report back about their experiences on the journey. Last week we posted part I. Here is part II.
February 18, 2013
We have just completed our 10-day visit to the many CAUSE Canada projects throughout the Koinadugu District in northern Sierra Leone. We spent most of our time based in Kabala – about 30 km from the Guinea border.
The purpose of these field trips every two years is to visit a project we support and see how 60 million girls can continue to be a more effective supporter of girls’ education. We can evaluate, firsthand, the impact the projects we fund are having on the community, what works best, where the major challenges are and, finally, identify innovative and creative new ways of empowering girls and women. We noted, for instance, that girls’ attendance is at least equal, if not greater, to that of boys in primary school – a very positive outcome of education projects. However, gender parity, though close at the junior high school level, is not at all the case in senior secondary today.
Our main guide throughout our stay was CAUSE Canada’s executive director and co-founder, Bev Carrick. Bev shared statistics, results, evaluations and challenges with great openness – information that will help us tremendously to see where we can work best. We visited some 7 to 8 primary schools, 2 high schools, a school for the disabled in Makeni, 2 women’s microfinance groups, 2 disabled women’s projects and 2 different Mothers’ Clubs. We attended part of the 4-day teacher conference that 60 million girls also funded, spent 3 days working with the peer literacy educators to improve their computer skills, as well as observing them in action as they practised phonetics with their daily after-school groups of primary students.
The junior high school girls chosen to become peer literacy educators go through an intensive 8-week program over the summer to learn how to support and enhance primary school children’s literacy skills. They then spend one hour 4 days a week, from September to June after their own daily classes, with a group of 6-8 children at an assigned primary school. The primary school children, who finish classes at 2 pm, go home and then return to school at 4:30 pm to meet with the peer literacy educator for an hour. In September, the peer literacy education program begins with class (grade) VI for 6 weeks, then switches to class V, then class IV, etc. The girls are compensated for this amazing voluntary service with a school uniform and the opportunity to attend free computer literacy classes every Saturday during the school year.
With this one program, the peer educators provide much needed additional help to the younger children and act as role models to the students. They are particularly important role models for the younger girls so that they know that girls can continue their studies into high school. The educators have access to computers, otherwise unattainable, and learn the skills they will need to help them as they continue their education at higher levels. Additionally, bursaries are provided to a number of girls interested in pursuing their education to the 3-year teacher college program. With this new cohort of strong, empowered girls, it is expected that the present number of female teachers, who are in the minority at the primary and particularly at the secondary levels, will increase within the next 5 to 10 years.
Girls’ and women’s empowerment programs would not be complete without the extraordinary mothers and women in the community. CAUSE Canada has instituted Mothers’ Clubs in all their 15 schools as well as in other communities. 20 women whose children attend the school are selected to form the Club in each school. They are given an initial investment of 500,000 leones (about $125), which they are to invest and earn a return of at least 10% and then repay the initial money to the school fund with the interest. The new total of capital and interest is then equally redistributed to the 20 mothers to again invest and return with a minimum 10% increase. One Mothers’ Club we met thus turned the initial 500,000 leones into 9,000,000 leones in 3 years with 4,000,000 leones used for purchasing school equipment, sports equipment and fencing for the school compound, as well as report card documents. The funds managed by the mothers are re-invested in the school according to its particular needs. In some schools, the funds go to provide lunch from a cooperative school garden run by the mothers. They may also use the funds to support particularly vulnerable children, help the teachers or for other uses.
How do the women make their small initial capital grow so incredibly? On top of their many tasks as mothers and wives – cooking meals, rearing the children, tending their plots of land or cattle, caring for sick family members – these women often start small businesses from their homes or by renting space in the local markets and bring the profits back to the Club. Some offer services such as tailoring (dressmaking) or selling produce and home-cooked meals. It is truly incredible and humbling to see the time, energy and passion these women invest – all in the name of improving their children’s lives through education.
These past 10 days have shown us how our funding has worked seamlessly with many other CAUSE programs, such as microfinance for women, agriculture and school garden projects, programs for disabled women and sanitary landfill projects. 60 million girls has funded the peer literacy educator program and the Mothers’ Clubs, offered bursaries for high school girls to complete their high school education and provided school supplies at the primary level. The wonderful aspect of these programs is how each one removes the many barriers to girls’ education. Each component or activity of the program has a synergistic effect so that, together, we can leverage our investments for an even greater impact.