Girl's Education: A Key to Poverty Eradication

By: Motoko Sugiyama

CSW49 - Presentation by WFWP Vice President and Director of UN Office

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Women's Federation for World Peace International (WFWPI), it is our great honor and pleasure to sponsor this NGO Side Event at the 49th Session of CSW Beijing+10, and to welcome all of you today.

As a women's NGO, WFWPI has invested its love and compassion as well as resources since its inception in 1992 toward projects which primarily aim to empower women and children.

In 1994, we started two major signature projects:

  • Sisterhood "Bridge of Peace" Projects and

  • International Service Projects (ISP)

both advocated by WFWPI founder, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon. The founder's vision for the Sisterhood Project is reconciliation between past enemy countries, resolving resentment by making sisterly relationships among women, thus empowering women to be true initiators and builders of a peaceful global family. The founder's vision for the International Service Projects is to challenge women of means to help in the eradication of poverty as members of the global family.

Today's topic is Girl's Education: A Key to Poverty Eradication.

Therefore, I would like to give an overview of our ISP first and then focus specifically on Girl's education programs and our NGO's experiences in this arena.

There are six major projects in our International Service Projects (ISP):

  1. Self-help Assistance Projects (in 15 countries)
    Those are:
    I.) Vocational Training Projects
    II.) Micro credit Programs
  2. Educational Assistance Projects for Children and Youth (in 20 countries).
    Those are:     
    I.) School Construction and Management/ Projects Supporting Schools
    II.) Foster Parents Projects
    III.) Scholarship Projects
    IV.) Supporting Sound Upbringing of Youth
  3. Literacy Education Projects (in 2 countries)
  4. Medical and Hygienic Assistance Projects (in 9 countries)
    Those are:
    I.) Free Medical Check-up Projects
    II.) Hygienic Assistance and Nutrition Projects
    III.) Donating Medical Materials
  5. Farm and Food Support Projects (in 3 countries)
  6. Education for AIDS Prevention and Moral Education Projects (in 11 countries)

You can see the ISP really focuses mostly in the area of Education. We have come to understand and to have confidence that Education is the Key element for poverty eradication and sustainable development, which the UN is emphasizing strongly now. As the saying goes, if our desire is to give true assistance, then "don't give fish but teach how to fish."

Because WFWPI opened its educational opportunities equally to boys and girls, of course we have boys in our schools. However, we have seen there are many remarkable disadvantages that women and girls face in their cultural or religious situations. We really feel that raising awareness of the importance of giving more attention to girl's education is so essential in the combat for poverty eradication, generally.  In addition to the cultural disadvantages that girls experience, there is the reality that girls and women are the ones most impacted by conflict and post conflict situations, and they are more often the ones left to hold daily life together in the face of conflict and post conflict situations.  This makes it all the more important that girls are well equipped through education to be future leaders in their communities in all areas, from bread making to bread winning, from parenting to community building.

I would like to talk about the educational programs we have started exclusively for girls and women.

Between 1995 and 1998, we have launched scholarship programs for girls in Bangladesh , and Cameroon , and Foster Parent Program and later, Peace High School for girls in Uganda as well as Vocational Training Schools for girls in Senegal and Rwanda .

In the case of Bangladesh and Cameroon , where we started scholarship programs for girls, both countries have Islamic religion and cultural values, which has a tendency to guide women to engage only in domestic affairs. This circumstance can be seen in some other Islamic countries as well. The scholarships go to girls who are high-achieving students, yet cannot continue studying because they are from poor families. The total number of scholarship recipients is 160 students in Bangladesh and 50 students in Cameroon since the inception of the scholarship program.

We believe those girls will contribute to the promotion of social evolution by becoming medical doctors or lawyers in the near future.

In Uganda 's case, we began to help young girls who suffer from the culture of FGM (Female genital mutilation in other words, female circumcision.) Those girls are empowered to reject FGM through the Foster Parent Program developed by WFWP in partnership with several other NGOs. A total of 257 girls have been sponsored in 2004 ranging from primary to University girls.

This foster parent system developed into the establishment of Peace High School in 2003 which shelters and educates disadvantaged girls in the following categories:

  1. Those running away from FGM in Kapchorna and Pokot of Nalapiripirit District.
  2. Girls orphaned by HIV/AIDS
  3. Returned child soldiers and those traumatized or orphaned by the Northern Ugandan war.
  4. Very clever girls from extremely poor families.

300 students are enrolled in this school.

This Peace High School is supported by foster parents from Uganda-US God Parents Association and WFWP Japan.

In Senegal , we established "JAMOO" Girls' Vocational Training School in 1995. Seventy girls enrolled every year to learn the skills of sewing, knitting and embroidery. After graduation, they get training at shops and prepare to have their own shops such as dressmaker shops. Their businesses are growing.

I would like to stress a very important issue when we talk about "Education" by presenting the case of Rwanda , where our overseas volunteers entered in 1995 just after a bloody civil war which started in 1990, finally ending in 1994. In one year, 1994, more than 1.2 million men and women and children were slaughtered.

The volunteers witnessed countless women and children who were desperately struggling to survive any way they could. The war had swept away the traditional Rwandan social structure in which men and older boys were supposed to be the authority and protector of households. Without formal education or any job training, women did not know how to feed their starving children. We found that these women needed first of all, literacy education and job skills training to enable them to become self-supporting. Thus, the project of vocational training school for girls as young as 13 years old through womanhood was started.

First, a Dressmaking class was opened in 1996 with 21 students. In December 1996, the government granted permission for WFWP to use 2734 square meters of land to build a school, and construction began. In July 1998, the construction was complete.  The school has an auditorium, 6 classrooms, a shop, a teacher's room, the president's room, a warehouse, and indoor and outdoor toilets. Now  in addition to two obligatory classes of Language and Business Administration for every student, there are four courses in the New Hope Technical Institute (NHTI):

  1. Dressmaking Course,
  2. Barber/Beautician Course,
  3. Embroidery Course,
  4. Cooking Course.

All applicants are required to be 13 years or older, can be boys or girls, yet 96% of students are girls. They must pass an entrance examination and interview. The yearly tuition is $17-$26. The total number of students enrolled from 1999 to 2004 was 650 students, with 450 students graduated.

This project was made possible by financial support from WFWP Japan Headquarters, Nara and Fukuoka Prefecture branch and in recent years, WFWP USA has also been supporting. A second source of income came from selling products made by students in the school shop and at an annual fair. The third source of income is rent from use of the school auditorium for weddings, conferences and other gatherings.

However, as we were advancing to make projects successful, aiming and hoping that Rwandan girls and women become self-supporting, often we noticed that there was an invisible barrier between students and teachers. The students did not ask any questions; even though they did not understand the material they were studying. Subsequently, we realized that their minds were closed because of the trauma they experienced during the civil war. Mrs. Bizinuju, the former First Lady then told us very painful and unforgettable stories about children whose parents were killed in front of them. Those children's minds had been numbed and were almost dead.

Therefore, we realized that vocational training alone would not enable girls and women to become self-supporting and we felt a strong need for education of heart or character education. As a result, we started to offer a monthly seminar on emotional empowerment, how to cultivate a caring heart, how to live for others, how to cope with family struggles and the importance of taking responsibility. At the same time we created a relaxed atmosphere, playing games at recreation time. As a result, the students and teachers felt free to talk about anything that concerned them. Students started to smile more and the learning disabled students began to learn little by little. Teachers very often had to hold the student's hands and talk to them eye to eye in class.

This kind of experience gives us a great hint to understand that the essence in any kind of education is a truly caring heart. Therefore as we promote learning of knowledge and skills, I would like to stress that character education is crucial for human beings to grow properly.

We all know that there is a long way to go to achieve total eradication of poverty from this world, even though the UN is targeting to halve the existing poverty by 2015 in MDGs which were adopted at the Millennium Summit in year 2000. Yet we also believe that sufficient resources exist in the world to make all mankind blessed and happy if we all exercise our know-how to love and care for each other as members of the human family.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.