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Sponsoring scholarships for the most vulnerable girls
VANGAINDRANO, Madagascar, 9 March 2011 – Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme – ‘Equal Access to Education, Training and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women’ – focuses on promoting the education of women and girls worldwide.
“Although the gender gap in education is closing, there are wide differences within and across countries,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “and far too many girls are still denied schooling, leave prematurely or complete school with few skills and fewer opportunities.”
Opportunity to study
As part of efforts to combat this, the Danish National Committee for UNICEF and the international organization Inner Wheel Denmark are sponsoring scholarships for the most vulnerable girls in the Vangaindrano school district in Madagascar, where the education gender gap is one of the highest in the country.
Bako, 12, from Ambohimidy, a remote village in southeast Madagascar, is one of the recipients. Her parents couldn’t afford an education for all their children, but given Bako’s slight handicap in one of her legs, she said, “they decided to invest in mine, since they thought that the others are at least healthy enough to use their bodies to work.”
Last academic year, Bako’s parents had to borrow money to pay the school fees at Tsiately Junior Secondary school, and to buy notebooks and pens. If Bako hadn’t received the scholarship, she would have dropped out of school. “I am the only child in my family who really got to study,” she said.
Investment in the future
When the ‘Post-primary Education for Girls’ project started in Vangaindrano district in 2008, there were only 53 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in lower secondary in the district.
Registration and teacher fees limit access to education in the region and many children do not complete primary school. At junior secondary level, the disparities become even wider, as adolescence and cultural beliefs start to become an obstacle for girls to continue their schooling.
“We started this project because we believe that investing in girls’ education, especially at the post-primary level, is one of the keys to achieving gender equality and development,” said UNICEF Madagascar Education Chief Margarita Focas Licht.
Last year, Bako walked two hours every day to get to school. She missed some days because her leg became swollen and hurt too much to complete the daily journey, and she now has to repeat a grade. This year, she is staying at her aunt’s house close to school during the week in order to advance her studies. Bako also has a mentor, who helps plan the scholarship funding, encourages her and gives her advice.
“Sometimes, it’s disturbing when boys tease me about the way I walk when I go up to the blackboard,” she said. “It’s really nice that I have someone other than my mother who takes care of me.”
Another adolescent Malagasy girl, Léoncine, 13, who is in seventh grade at Mahabe Junior Secondary School, is now on a path to a better future, as well. Raised by her grandmother, she worked last summer vacation through November in order to afford the school fees.
She only returned to school the following month, when she was finally able to pay. This year, the fees have gone up to 50,000 Ariary (about $25). “Without the scholarship, I couldn’t have continued school,” said Léoncine.
For Fabiola, 14, also in seventh grade at the same school, the scholarship has helped change her parents’ attitude towards girls. One of 11 siblings, she was going to leave school this year so her younger brother could enter junior secondary. Fabiola was doing so well at school, however, that her mother tried to negotiate with her dad, but he said that supporting their son took priority.
“So I was told ‘If we cannot afford to send you to school this year, we are going to marry you off.’ I was really sad, as I didn’t feel ready,” she recalls.
“When I learned that I would get the scholarship, I was so happy I ran to tell my mother,” Fabiola went on. “My parents were both very happy, and told me that I need to continue as far as possible.”
The opportunity at an education has already had a profound effect. Fabiola now wants to become a high school teacher: “I want to become a role model for others, the way my teacher is for me.”