Will Education Alone Suffice?

In a not-so-small village in India, where people earn their livelihood by farming, education is booming. In the last decade, this village has seen the birth and development of a government school and several private schools. A couple of these are even elite ‘English medium’ schools.

The village has also seen the opening of a pre-university college. But to pursue any vocational or professional course afterwards, an individual must travel to the next town. With no frequent bus connectivity, this higher education remains a distant dream for many. But the people of the village are still ecstatic.

Their children can now say a few words in English. They can identify the English alphabet. They can – sometimes stutteringly – say a sentence in English too. Their children are educated – a word whose purpose and worth many of us fail to comprehend.

In a real-life scenario, each family enrolls their child/children in school dutifully. Fees are low, midday meals are provided and children are taken care of while the parents work in the fields as daily wage labourers. By the time the children are back, parents are back at home too.

When boys reach 5th or 6th standard, they drop out of school to work alongside their parents. Another breadwinner for the family is more important than learning English – which ‘they will never use anyway’.

The girl child, however, is sent to school to complete her education up to the 10th standard. Some progressive families will even allow their daughters to study up to the 12th. All because it increases their demand in marriage.

A boy educated up to 4th standard will work from the age of 9 till 24, manage to buy an acre of farm land with the joint earnings of his family, and then approach the family of a well-educated girl with a marriage proposal.

If all goes well, the proposal is accepted and a marriage is celebrated by the families. The daughter-in-law dutifully takes up her responsibility of cleaning the house, cooking three meals, tending to the cattle and bearing children – often before she herself is even 20 years old.

This is the story of young adults in most villages here.

Is there any need for change? Who is to blame? Does something have to be done, or is this something to be left alone?

Schools and colleges were, at some point, new to many living in villages across India. Yet most people accepted them with open arms. My question, though, is if this education does not translate into a good job and decent pay, is it of any use to poor farming communities?

Ensuring we don’t just stop with providing schools, but focus on creating livelihoods through relevant vocational training is a major need for our people.

Making opportunities for working and earning available to girls and boys equally is the responsibility of every government.

What use is a 12th standard education if a girl is unable to support herself financially? After all, financial independence is very closely linked to security and safety.

I believe that societies change and adapt to the opportunities presented to them. Law makers, influencers and policy makers must understand the needs of a population with a view to future growth, rather than simply providing dead-end educations!

Empowering Women Means Supporting Stronger Families

Each and every day, it’s important to celebrate the stories of women who lift themselves, their families and their communities out of economic hardship – women who embody true resilience through their ingenuity, compassion and hard work.

At SOS Children’s Villages, I am inspired by countless women around the world. Women like Sherapy, a young mother from Zambia who grew up as 1 of 10 children on the outskirts of Lusaka. Her family struggled to make ends meet, scraping together a meagre living through small-scale farming. Her parents could not afford her school fees and so she had to drop out after 6th grade. Shortly after leaving school, she got married and started working.

Life was tough for us without a stable income,” Sherapy recalls. “I worked in a salon braiding hair but my real interest was in sewing. I looked forward to the day that I would learn to sew and open my own store. But my dream was fading quickly in the daily struggle for survival.

Sherapy’s story is not unique. According to the World Food Programme, 60% of people in Zambia live below the poverty line and 42% are considered to be extremely poor. For women, the situation is compounded by their lack of educational opportunities and lower level of economic, social and political power. They fight daily to support themselves and their families.

Photo credit: SOS Children’s Villages

However, Sherapy’s story has a different ending. She was accepted into the SOS Vocational Training Center program for sewing and design in Lusaka. This training center is one of many SOS vocational training programs around the world, providing education and job training to nearly 170,000 people each year.

Upon graduation, Sherapy was accepted to an entrepreneurship program, training her in critical skills to set up and manage her own business. She then won a contract to sew 1,000 school uniforms for the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School, giving her the financial freedom to open her own tailoring shop.

Photo credit: SOS Children’s Villages

Fast forward a few years and Sherapy now employs her sisters, who earn a decent income and learn valuable entrepreneurial skills by running the shop. In addition to generating a stable income, Sherapy supports her teenage daughters to further their education and to follow the careers of their choice.

One of my daughters says she wants to be a teacher, and the other one wants to become a doctor. I want to help them achieve their dreams. As for me, I would like to stop sewing one day and instead pass on this skill to other young people. I hope to be a tailoring instructor,” she says.

For me, Sherapy is a testament to how empowering a woman with tools and resources provides opportunities to her family and strengthens her whole community. Studies have shown that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, creating transformative change within entire communities.

As we acknowledge progress and honor women like Sherapy, let us not forget the need to press forward for women around the world. We must do more and work harder to give women the support they need to not just survive, but to thrive and transform their communities, just like Sherapy has done.

This post is by Anna Safronova for SOS Children’s Villages.

Empowering Women in Mali, Africa: Yeah Samaké

Yeah Samaké speaking with women at a training, Photo courtesy of firstladymali.com

Malian women are strong. They work dawn to dusk taking care of their families and are usually the first to wake up and the last to go to bed. Usually they will have anywhere from 4 to 10 children. They cook, clean, chop firewood and often try to start small businesses so that they can bring in some income. All of this is usually done with a child on their back and one to two in tow. In Mali, women and men have separated incomes. The man is responsible for providing money for food and the general running of the household. Any money the women bring in can be used by her at her discretion. Having a business teaches these women how to sustain themselves. The culture in Mali is rapidly changing and it is very common to see small street businesses run by women selling anything from household items to produce.

Mali is taking many steps forward. After the military coup last March 2012, just 39 days before the election, an interim government was established in Mali. There are 31 ministers, four of whom are women. Yeah Samaké played an important role in the establishment of the interim government after the coup. The goal of this new unity government remains the same as before. First, to regain the lost Northern territory and second, to organize elections. Mali has a bright future with Yeah Samaké as President. The presidential elections in Mali will happen on July 28, 2013.

Yeah’s party, Party for Civic and Patriotic Action (Parti pour l’action civique et patriotique – PACP) has done a number of initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship among women and provide education for women to improve their quality of life. Last year, in an effort to encourage increased women’s entrepreneurship, Yeah Samaké and the PACP hosted a free 5-day workshop for 25 women to teach them how to make soap and shea butter. This was an awesome opportunity for women to learn a business that they could then take back to their own regions and implement. Shea butter is a very essential product in Malian everyday life. It is used for anything from a cosmetic value to a medicinal ingredient. Also, due to the social nature of women in Mali, by teaching one woman, you are in essence teaching the entire group she will associate with.

Classroom training on making shea butter

Learning to make soap

Yeah’s wife, Marissa Samaké said, “I am a big believer in empowering women and it is my hope that projects of this nature will educate women and then give them the hope to change their lives and the lives of those around them.”

Marissa Samaké: Working in the Villages

Marissa Samaké has been very committed to helping the women of Mali. In her own initiative last year, she visited the women in the village of Farabana and committed to provide two months of food for the children. During her visit, she saw them prepare the meal as they added milk, sugar, crushed peanuts, and tamarind to the millet mixture. Any extra food could be sold by the women to the neighboring villages to make some much-needed income. Of that experience, she said:

“I was very impressed with these women. They were happy in spite of all their hardships. They did not complain about what they did not have. Rather they were searching for opportunities to create solutions to their problems… The women and children of Farabana taught me a lesson. They taught how sometimes it is the small gifts that matter because the impact is the greatest. 2 months food does not cost an immense amount of money.”

Read more about Marissa Samaké’s project for women in Mali.

Yeah Samaké

As mayor of Ouélessébougou, within his first three years, Yeah has increased the tax collection rate to 75% from 10% when he first took office. With additional resources, Yeah has done many things for his community. One of the biggest things Yeah has done for his community is he helped to build a hospital. This has a huge impact on maternal mortality. Before this hospital, women had to travel several hours to a hospital, often not making it in time. The maternal mortality ratio in Mali is 460 for 1,000 births (UNICEF). He has also helped to build the first public high school in the region and 15 middle schools throughout Mali, as well as the largest solar panel field in West Africa (MaliWeb). With increased opportunities for education and increased energy resources, particularly more girls are attending secondary school in Mali. Only 24% of girls in Mali attend secondary school (UNICEF).

A political campaign in Mali is very unique. It is very challenging to share a message with 15.1 million people with limited access to radio, television, and limited resources and transportation. Yeah and his party, PACP, travel all around the country, visiting villages and holding rallies. When PACP visits a village or community, they also take time to specifically meet with the women.  Recently, the PACP party members traveled to Niarela where the leader of the women in the village, a woman by the name of Sympara, committed that she would support Yeah Samaké and the PACP vision for a new day in Mali.

32 days until the elections in Mali! Let’s continue to empower women.

Get involved. Become passionate about a good cause. Make a difference.

If you would like to become involved in the Samaké 2013 campaign or Yeah’s initiatives to empower women, contact us at teamsamake@gmail.com. Help us spread the word on Facebook and Twitter!

I am the North American Campaign Manager for Yeah Samaké, a presidential candidate for Mali, West Africa under the Party for Civic and Patriotic Action (PACP).  To learn more about Yeah or donate to his campaign visit http://samake2013.com.  You can also read more about why #isupportyeah.

Yeah Samaké is a native of Mali, West Africa and he comes from a very humble background. His father was a visionary man and he sacrificed so that all his 18 children could receive an education. Yeah received a Bachelors in Teaching English as a Second Language in Bamako. In 2004, Yeah co-founded the Mali Rising Foundation, which under his leadership has built 15 middle schools throughout Mali. He holds a Master of Public Policy from Brigham Young University (BYU). He is currently the mayor of Ouélessébougou, Mali and the Vice President of the League of Mayors.