Educating girls is a powerful agent for social change. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls who go to school are more likely to:
- enter the work force
- earn higher incomes
- delay marriage
- have fewer children
- have lower HIV infection rates
- have reduced infant mortality
- plan their families
- seek an education for their own children
Staying in school for seven or more years leads these girls to marry an average of four years later and have two fewer children. And education isn’t just good for a girl’s life; it transforms a community as well. According to USAID and The World Bank, a 10% increase in the number of girls in school raises a country’s GDP an average of 3% and improves crop yield overall. “Girls’ education is the highest-returning social investment in the world,” explains Gene Sperling, Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“[We’ve] learned that done right, education changes almost everything. Evidence suggests that educating girls increases productivity, raises health standards, reduces birthrates and undermines extremism. Drones and missiles can fight terrorism, but an even more transformative weapon is a girl with a book, and it’s one that is remarkably cost-effective. For the price of a single Tomahawk cruise missile, it’s possible to build about 20 schools,” writes journalist Nicholas Kristof.
One School at a Time supports girls to stay in school with the following simple and cost-effective interventions:
- Provide latrines and wash areas for girls at school.
Some rural schools in Uganda do not have adequate toilet facilities, especially for girls. One School at a Time has supported our partner schools to construct urgently needed latrines and wash areas. Access to proper bathroom facilities has immeasurably benefited the lives of girls enrolled at our partner schools. They no longer have to use the teachers latrines and have a safe place to wash themselves and their uniforms when accidents happen.
- Provide new uniforms for girls developing bodies.
It can be hard for girls to find or afford a fitting uniform once they enter puberty. Students who do not wear uniforms, however, can be sent home at the discretion of the principal. Girls may solve this problem by finding a “sugar daddy,” an older man with money who will pay for her school uniform if she has sex with him. This may bring great suffering to the girl as older men are more likely to be infected with HIV than younger ones. Many girls will drop out of school instead. One School at a Time hires a local seamstress to sew uniforms (about $10 each) for needy girls enrolled at our partner schools. These girls now attend school with confidence knowing they have a properly fitting uniform.
- Provide a way for girls to manage their menstruation.
Imagine telling your menstruating daughter that she must stay home from school because you cannot afford to provide her with sanitary pads. This is the sad reality for many Ugandan girls, especially those whose families are living in rural areas on less than $1/day. These girls cannot afford to buy sanitary products and instead resort to using old rags, toilet paper, newspaper, ash, mud and even cow dung. They skip school to avoid embarrassing leaks and stains in public. Some girls just drop out of school completely. To address this problem, One School at a Time provides re-useable sanitary pad kits ($8 per kit) to needy older girls at our partner schools. These girls no longer miss school or endure humiliation, knowing that they have a proper way to handle their menstruation.
- Provide peer-to-peer mentoring and educational and emotional support meetings for girls and their parents.
The onset of menstruation puts African girls at educational risk. Negative practices include sexual harassment (even from teachers), withdrawal of economic support from the home, and the sudden pressure to marry. One School at a Time provides regular support and informational meetings for both older girls and their parents at our partner schools. The purpose of these meetings is to provide girls with information about their changing bodies and to encourage parents to support their daughters to stay in school.
- Provide clean on-site water.
In Africa, girls are expected to collect water. Because of this cultural expectation, girls lose valuable classroom time and can be subject to assault. A maintenance-free, on-site clean water system helps the girls focus on school while improving the community’s overall health and sanitation.