Why is it so hard for girls in rural Africa to stay in school?

Typically when the employees from an NGO come to visit their work area in Africa, the partners do not want to share situations that are not going well. After all, if the truth is told, perhaps the funders will become angry and withdraw support? This August 2016, our Ugandan program manager, Hussein Tadesse, visited one of our elementary partner schools to collect some data and check in. One of the teachers drew him aside and whispered to him that four of the girls enrolled there had recently become pregnant.

Hussein (very concerned and alarmed), ” What is this? Why? What is going on?”

This school had received sanitary pads (AFRIpads) for all their older girls from One School at a Time just a few months ago and was providing support to the girls with monthly educational meetings. But still, not enough for these four girls.

Hussein decided to hold a meeting right away with all the older girls (fourth to seventh grades) at this school. But he wanted to do things differently. Instead of standing in front of the class lecturing them and telling them what NOT to do, he organized the girls into small groups for sharing. Being in a small group makes it possible for shyer girls to speak out and gives them a forum to express themselves safely. The topic the girls discussed was, “what causes us to drop out of school?”


The group works hard to identify the challenges to their education.


Yes, you are right, that could easily cause you to drop out of school!

Each group selected a spokesperson who later shared with the larger group their findings. Pregnancy, not having a secure way to manage menstruation, suffering from a heavy domestic work load in the home, and violence by teachers at the schools (including rape) were the main challenges the girls identified.


I am presenting what we discussed!

Recent research has unequivocally demonstrated that girls who go to school are more likely to enter the work force, earn higher incomes, delay marriage, plan their families and seek an education for their own children. Current data indicates that in Sub-Saharan Africa, every extra year of schooling can equate to a 10% increase in wages throughout life. Women put 90% of their earnings into their families, compared to men’s 40%. The World Bank has found that when a country improves education for girls, its overall per-capita income increases. Improvements in girls’ education lead to higher crop yields, lower HIV infection rates, and reduced infant mortality. Gene Sperling (Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations) states “Girl’s education is the highest-returning social investment in the world.”


The girls appreciated the meeting and getting to work together. It feels good to be noticed and supported.


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