Listen to this article
Cambridge-based Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education) fights poverty and HIV/Aids in Africa by supporting the education of girls through secondary school.
Girls in Africa have traditionally lacked the same opportunities for schooling as boys, yet educating them can create a powerful virtuous circle: the young women gain economic independence, are less vulnerable to Aids and are likely to raise smaller, healthier and better educated families of their own.
Ann Cotton, the charity’s founder and executive director, said: “FT readers have been very generous. Their giving, together with associated giftaid, will allow us to support almost 2,000 more girls through to the end of their secondary education.”
The appeal, which focused on the FT’s UK readers, has had a substantial impact on Camfed’s funds. The charity achieved a 52 per cent increase in income last year compared with 2005. Donations to the FT appeal accounted for 16 per cent of the total raised.
How will the donations be spent? “All the money raised will support the secondary education of girls in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Tanzania,” says Cotton. “It will enable girls from very poor backgrounds, including many children orphaned by HIV/Aids and who have just completed primary school, to move on and complete the next vital stage of education.” In some of Camfed’s 800 partner schools, as many as a third of the pupils are orphans.
“Camfed,” she adds, “has tight financial controls at every level and the support to each and every child is carefully tracked to ensure that everyone receives their full entitlement.”
African families have traditionally put boys’ education first. But Cotton says they fully support their daughters attending school when the costs they cannot afford are met by Camfed. These include school clothing, shoes, stationery and transport. When girls go to boarding school because their local school is too far to walk daily, Camfed pays for essentials such as pocket money, towels and a tin trunk so the girls are not singled out by other children for their poverty.
With secondary school lasting from 14 to 18, Camfed makes a minimum four-year financial commitment to each child. Most donations to the FT appeal were for single sums. “It would be wonderful if donors could become regular givers,” says Cotton. “We need to secure income for the future to multiply the number of girls we support with confidence and sound business planning. We would also love to hear from companies.”
Apart from material help, the charity provides social support to reduce the chance that girls will drop out of education. It employs community mentors who look out for early signs of a child’s distress.
Help continues after the girls leave school. A Camfed alumni association, managed by the young women themselves, provides mutual support and a means of sharing knowledge. Some women also benefit from training and micro-credit that allows them to set up their own small businesses.
One of the areas that will be helped by the FT appeal is the Iringa district of south-west Tanzania. This is on the main road from Dar es Salaam, the capital, to Zambia and has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country. The government has opened eight new secondary schools in the district in the past few years, bringing the total to 14.
One of the girls who will now be supported by Camfed there is 14-year-old Brigitta, whose father died in 1998 when she was in nursery school. Her mother is in poor health and makes a living by farming, producing a local brew and collecting firewood to sell. Brigitta says: “ I was so happy to get a place at secondary school but then I was so worried – how am I going to study? Who is going to pay for me? I just found out that I am going to be supported by Camfed and I am so happy. I’m determined to study hard right up to university.”
Another girl who will now get a secondary education is 14-year-old Sophia, whose father died when she was six months old and lives with her grandfather. She says: “I would love to become a doctor so that I can help my relatives and the community when they are sick.”
In Africa, what may be small sums by western standards have the power to transform lives.
Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published