Sometimes it’s hard to be a girl. Especially a girl living in poverty. You have to face all the issues that trap boys in poverty too: hunger, lack of clean water, no access to decent medical care. Yet you must also live with your own, gender-specific problems. Domestic violence, child marriage, FGM – all these make being a girl in poverty just that extra bit harder.
Education is often the answer – a fast track out of poverty, breaking the cycle for the next generation. But in some cultures, a girl’s education is not valued as highly as a boy’s. If money is tight, parents prioritise their sons. Instead of finishing their education and learning skills to earn money, girls are married off while still children themselves. One third of girls in the developing world are married before they turn 18.
In fact, girls are three times more likely to drop out of education than boys – and twice as likely as boys to not even start school in the first place. Even girls who are in school face difficulties. They might have to collect water before school, arriving to the classroom late and exhausted
In Africa, 1 in 10 school-age girls do not go to school during their periods. This is either for cultural reasons or because the school does not have the sanitation facilities to cope. That’s 1 in 10 African girls missing a week of education, every month.
So what can be done? There’s so much to be gained from the personal approach that is child sponsorship. International charities like Compassion offer opportunities to sponsor children, that have been proven to make a real difference. Through sponsorship programmes, girls benefit from support to keep them in education, whether that’s help with weekly meals, uniform or school fees, or helping their parents to run a business to provide for them at home. Sponsoring a girl can make that difference.
Sponsorship means school
Hilda, from Peru, is the eighth child in her family of 10 children. Sending each of those children to school was a problem for her family: especially when there was barely enough money to feed them all.
Hilda says, “We didn’t have much money growing up and we lived in one room. When I was five years old my Dad had an accident which left him unable to work. We had no money for food and I was very scared. I felt like no-one cared about me and I didn’t matter.”
But Hilda found a sponsor through international charity Compassion UK. This meant that, despite the limitations of her circumstances, she was able to stay in school. Today, Hilda is a university graduate. She works as a teacher herself, passing on her knowledge to the next generation.
Sponsorship did more than simply pay for Hilda’s education: it gave her a whole new mindset. She says, “I learnt how to take care of myself. I learnt I was special and that God loved me.”
Sponsoring a girl like Hilda can turn her life around. Studies show that an extra year of primary education increases a girl’s future wages by 10-20 percent. If she’s able to stay in secondary school for an extra year too, her future wage increases by 15-20 percent.
Interestingly, a woman is likely to invest 70 percent of her earnings back into the family – paying the benefit forward for the next generation.
But sometimes, girls can find themselves responsible for a family too soon. Perhaps her parents need to work, or they’re sick, or they’re even in prison. When parents are unable to look after their children, it’s often girls who have to pick up the pieces of a broken family life at home.
As well as interfering with a girl’s education, responsibilities at home can take an emotional toll.
In this context, sponsorship can offer stability. Sponsoring a girl can give her weekly support, whether that’s help with homework, someone to talk to, or providing regular meals.
Sponsorship means stability
Chantal was born to an unmarried mother who was addicted to alcohol. Tensions in Rwanda ran high in the 1990s, culminating in the 100-day genocide in which 800,000 people were killed by their neighbours. In Chantal’s early years, her country and community were still in shock.
Chantal’s mother abandoned her as a new born, leaving her on the doorstep of her grandmother’s house.
But Chantal’s uncle felt the unwanted baby was ‘a shameful thing’. He came with a machete to remove the shame from the family.
Chantal survived, but her grandmother was killed as she tried to protect the baby. As Chantal grew up, she found herself responsible for her mother’s growing family.
“My mother kept having children,” she says. “She used to leave me in the house with a young baby and no food. [My mother] used to drink when we did not even have a matchbox in the house.”
Chantal found a sponsor who helped her to persevere with her education. The sponsor provided stability when her own family couldn’t. One day, Chantal’s mother threw her out of home.
Chantal says, “I was ashamed. Because I had nowhere to stay, when I would see an avocado tree I would sleep there. I remember crying out to God saying this world doesn’t want me. But He took care of me.”
Thanks to her sponsorship, Chantal has overcome her circumstances and grown into a confident young woman. Today she is happily married, able to provide for herself through her tailoring business and raising a young child of her own.
Sponsoring a girl can make her more likely to finish secondary school and less likely to be forced into an early marriage. It can boost a girl’s self-esteem, knowing that someone cares for her and is prepared to invest in her. It can relieve the pressure on her family life, by offering her nutritional support and healthcare. Sponsoring a girl makes her less vulnerable to harmful practices such as FGM or child labour.
Investing in girls is known to help the wider project of ending extreme poverty. One of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015 is to ensure women and girls have equal access to education.
Even investing in one girl’s life can affect a whole community for generations to come.
Author bio: Catherine Prescott is a freelance writer specialising in international development and writing for children.
Sponsored Post Contributed by CompassionUK team