||An RPCV Legacy Program Project
Support of Girls Advisory Committees at Ethiopian Primary Schools
Championed by Nancy Horn (Addis Ababa 6668)
and C.J. Castagnaro (Harar, Debre Zeit 6466, 6769)
EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS, including those in which Peace Corps has participated, have sought to find the solution to the problems of low girls’ enrollment, low completion rates for girls, and girls’ low self-esteem in the school context. USAID and other bilateral donors have consistently identified many different reasons for the difficulties girls experience: the opportunity cost of girls’ family labor in taking care of younger siblings (so day care centers were constructed at schools); the investment of family resources into boys’ education (so scholarships were provided for girls); the existence of unisex latrines (so separate latrines were built for girls and boys); the distant location of schools (so communities decided where to place new schools that girls would attend); the lack of female role models (so projects sought to increase the number of teachers); and the like.
Taking all of these into account, and working with communities on school improvement, the BESO II Community-Government Partnership Program sponsored by USAID seeks to mobilize the community in support of school improvement beyond the pedagogical arena. As many of you may know first-hand, it has been very difficult to work with parent groups to support schools as many parents would not come to or involve themselves with school activities because of their own lack of education. The CGPP has done an excellent job in mobilizing parents and other community members to have them focus on schools and school imporvement as an arena where they have a real role to play.. As part of the school improvement process, the project has fostered the development of Girls’ (Educational) Advisory Committees (GAC) to improve the environment for girls and to tackle some of the more difficult issues that are preventing girls from attending and completing school.
The CGPP implementers come to a community, address parents and community members, have them tour the schools, and then mobilize the community through the provision of a series of small grants to identify what they could do to improve the schools. The grants are a mechanism for training and capacity building, and as seed money for voluntary community contributions. Oftentimes, the community identifies capital improvements, such as separate-sex latrines, new classrooms, preparation rooms for teachers, new roofing, well drilling for water, desks and classroom furniture, and the like. Community interest is in creating a better learning environment for the children and a sense of community responsibility for and “ownership” of the school.
Along with the capital improvements made by the community, GACs conduct their own “research” to determine the key issues in each school that are preventing girls from learning at their peak, from attending school, and from finishing their primary years. In each school, the issues vary. This is generally because schools are located in different cultural contexts in which cultural beliefs and practices inhibit girls from coming to school. For instance, in areas were only grains rather than coffee are grown, the difficulties of drought have prevented appropriate harvests. This means the family has few or little financial resources for survival. In this instance, young girls are seen as assets and become vulnerable to parents creating early marriage contracts between their daughters and older men who can afford the price of a young wife. Once a young girl is married, she generally drops out of school.
In other areas, where it is believed that women who have not experienced the removal of certain portions of their genitalia cannot become full members of their society and thus cannot marry, the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation or cutting) is undertaken before girls reach puberty. This often results in death or early marriage and the removal of girls from school.
In many regions in Ethiopia, it is believed that girls cannot be as “clever” as boys. This means that as girls are socialized into their societies, they learn that they are “dumb” and cannot perform as well as boys. They come to school with self-esteem issues that lead to their giving up when it appears that a subject is difficult.
The GACs, which report to the Paretn-Teacher Associations (and are not a club) composed of teachers (generally female), parents (generally mothers), students, community leaders, and, (indirectly) elders or representatives of clergy, are keenly aware of what keeps girls from attending school. Once the GACs are formed, they identify key issues and then devise plans on how to address each one. At one school, it was determined that girls who are HIV/AIDS orphans had to drop out of school completely due to financial shortages. The GAC established a small shop a microenterprise that would generate income to provide the orphans the clothing, shoes, and school supplies that they needed to come to school. At another school, where early marriage created a severe drop in girls’ attendance at 4th grade, the GAC went as a team to parents’ homes to convince them to break the marriage contract. This created financial hardships on the parents, and the GAC worked with them on how to make ends meet.
When I (Nancy) evaluated the CGPP for USAID in June/July 2005, I found that GACs had experienced all sorts of successes. But they were doing their work without any resources. When financial resources were needed, members themselves had to dig down in their own pockets to contribute what they needed. (You teachers in the US, does this sound familiar?) The CGPP grants two provided non-competitively for about $300 each, and a third provided competitively for about $600 each generally could not cover what the GACs needed because of the increased cost of materials needed to cover construction. The communities were very responsive often providing more than ten times what the grant provided in either cash or in-kind labor and materials contributions but the resources targeted capital improvements.
With a very small amount of resources (between $30 and $50), GACs would be able to: 1) work more with parents to convince them not to create early marriage contracts for their daughters or not to submit their daughters to FGM; 2) create income-generating opportunities to support girls in need and HIV/AIDS orphans and other destitute girls with clothing and school supplies; 3) strengthen tutoring programs to help girls overcome their self-esteem issues; 4) create different learning opportunities for girls (and their parents) to foster a more education-oriented culture; and many other strategies.
The number of schools targeted for this round of fund-raising is 120 (for approximately $6,000). This is a very modest number of schools, as there are actually more than 1000 schools in the third phase of the project. If donations exceed $6,000, they will be used by the two implementing partners: World Learning, and Save the Children US. Together, they are responsible for approximately 3,300 schools in all areas but Tigre (the Tigre Development Association has sources of other funds to support GACs). The project is due to end early in 2007, but we are also working to lobby USAID to extend the project because it has been so successful.
Nancy E. Horn, Ph.D., Ethiopia VII, Champion
CJ Castagnaro, Ethiopia IV, Co-Champion