Nonfiction in response to Quality Education
By Kelsey Cashman
Image Credit: Trevor Patzer-co-funder of Little Sisters Fund
Weekends, breaks, snow days—most students in America live for them. Texting and Snapchatting through class, whispering to your friends while the teacher is lecturing—we’ve all been there. How about taking those hour-long bathroom breaks to get out of as much of class as possible? Or groaning every time the teacher introduces a new topic or assigns a project? Rarely do we ever take the time to appreciate how lucky we are to be given the opportunity of an education; rarely do we ever think upon the fact that there are at least 57 million children who wish that they could have the opportunities that we take for granted.
Though the percentage of children enrolled in primary school has risen to 91%, millions of children still are not enrolled in school. In fact, it is estimated by the Global Partnership for Education that one in five children around the world remain out of school. Often living in countries with political instability or poverty, these children face barriers that include gender, poverty, displacement, nomadism, disability, and ethnicity. Both boys and girls are denied education because of wars zones and political turmoil, disabilities, lack of access to free schools, natural disasters, the prevalence of child labor, and in some cases because there simply are no schools to attend. However, in many developing countries, girls are more likely to be denied education simply because they are female.
In developing countries around the world, there are 35 million primary-aged girls who are not enrolled in school. The lack of education for women is especially prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Literacy rates for women in these areas range between 15% to 44%. Often in these countries, male children will be educated while female children will not because of poverty, security, or cultural reasons. Child marriage is a also major cause of this lack of educated women, as it is estimated that 15 million girls around the world are married by the age of 18, which generally results in them dropping out of school to start a family. Another reason for the lack of education is sexual violence towards women. One in three Haitian women have experienced sexual violence with the most solicitations being at schools. Other factors keeping women out of schools include human trafficking and disease.
The lack of education for women is also common in Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Yemen, where women are 10% less literate than men. The problem is most serious in Yemen, where only about 28% of girls are even able to enroll in primary school and only 21% are able to enroll in secondary school. One of the reasons for the lack of educated women in the Middle East is poverty. Only a few countries provide access to free education, and the cost of education is often too expensive for families to send a daughter to school. Also, because of the extremely patriarchal society in the Middle East, women are considered second class citizens. Therefore, education for women is considered unnecessary as their primary role is believed to be giving birth to and taking care of children.
Around the world, there are many organizations battling this discrimination and working to bring women equal educational opportunities. One such organization is the Little Sisters Fund, which currently sponsors the education of 2113 economically disadvantaged Nepalese girls. In Nepal, only 43% of women are literate and more than 70% of girls have dropped out of school by the age of 16. Co-founded in 1998 by Trevor Patzer and Usha Acharya, the Little Sisters Fund works to battle this discrimination by providing disadvantaged girls with long-term scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, books, supplies, and uniforms. Trevor Patzer was given the gift of education and spent many years trying to find a way to pay it forward. One year, when he was traveling in Nepal with Usha Acharya, he saw the extreme need for education and asked Usha Acharya if there was a way that he could help, to which she responded by introducing him to all of the challenges facing girls in Nepal.
Together, the two founded the Little Sister’s Fund, beginning with sponsoring the education of just one girl, Bindhaya. The following year, they sponsored seventeen girls, and progressively more in the years since. In the words of Trevor Patzer, “girls don’t need help, what they need is equal opportunity,” which is what they are given through the Little Sisters Fund. The Little Sisters Fund not only provides women with the means to an education, but also enables them to stay in school and advises them to not even think about marriage until they have completed their education and settled into a job. In doing this, they protect the girls from common dangers such as human trafficking, child marriage, and child labor, which are extremely present issues in Nepal. In rural Nepal, 40% of girls get married by the age of fourteen and one-half have their first child by the age of 16. Shockingly, 15,000-20,000 girls in Nepal are trafficked into the sex trade each year, but the education provided through the Little Sisters Fund provides girls with the tools to escape those fates.
With the help of the Little Sisters Fund, 98% of the sponsored girls pass the School Leaving Certificate—an exam that enables them to pass on to higher education. In fact, women sponsored by the Little Sisters Fund are nine times more likely to go to college than other women, despite being from poorer and more disadvantaged areas. Women who graduate from the Little Sisters Fund go on to do a wide range of jobs that were not available to them before being educated. Bindhaya, the original Little Sister, is now a nurse at one of the biggest hospitals in Nepal. Other graduates are teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, engineers, and much more. Patzer said, “if a woman can get an education, she can absolutely achieve success in Nepal.” Not only are these women able to improve their own lives through the Fund, but they also work to pay it forward. After graduating from school and settling into jobs, some of the women come back and sponsor more girls, with twenty-four graduates asking to be sponsors this past year alone.
The Little Sisters Fund is not unique—there are many organizations that are striving to close the gap between education for women and men. One of these organizations is the Global Partnership for Education, which works to help increase the number of children who attend and complete school. Another such organization is the Global Business Coalition for Education, which brings businesses together to support the increase of education for the world’s children. Through supporting these educations and working as a society to enable more women to be educated, we can close the education gap. With the increase of educated women, population growth, infant mortality, and family health in developing countries all over the world could be improved.
We are lucky to be blessed with the ability to wake up every morning and go to school. We are fortunate to have an education that prepares us for a successful future. Let’s work together to bring the blessing of education to more children all around the world because, in the words of Trevor Patzer, “if you can make a positive difference, then your life has been worth living.”