Listen to this article
Alice Saisha, the youngest of 10 children brought up by a poor single mother in rural Zambia, appeared to have little choice.
Without the money to fund her education, it seemed the only way for the 14-year-old to escape the poverty that blights the lives of young girls across the developing world was to drop out of school and marry a man several times her age.
“I was destined to be a child bride,” she says. “I didn’t want to marry — mentally, psychologically or emotionally. I just wanted to be in school. But I couldn’t pay for a school uniform, stationery or the fees.”
Her fortunes were transformed by the Campaign for Female Education, a UK-based charity that in 2006-07 became the Financial Times’s first Seasonal Appeal partner.
As the FT on Thursday unveils its 2017 Seasonal Appeal, in support of Alzheimer’s Research UK, Ms Saisha’s story highlights the success of previous appeals and the continuing impact on the organisations the FT has partnered.
In 2006, FT readers responded to a series of articles highlighting the work of Camfed and the lack of opportunities for girls such as Ms Saisha, with substantial offers of money and other forms of assistance.
Seasonal Appeal 2017
This year’s FT Seasonal Appeal partner is Alzheimer’s Research UK.
The appeal launches on Thursday November 23 and early donations can be made here
This directly raised more than £2.2m, allowing Camfed to sponsor 7,500 girls through secondary school in Zambia and Malawi. The funding helped pay for their education and supported the charity’s network of mentors, drawn from past beneficiaries of the programme, who provide broader educational and social support.
“My mentor took the time to guide and counsel me,” says Ms Saisha, until recently a university student. “She tutored me and helped with counselling on difficult issues, like when I was called names because I came from a poor family. She helped me fit in.”
Martin Dickson, who was FT deputy editor when the first Seasonal Appeal was launched, says that campaign “raised Camfed’s profile and gave it credibility around the world”. It led to an enduring partnership between the charity and Linklaters, the London-based law firm.
Camfed first contacted the FT as Mr Dickson was seeking ways to mobilise the newspaper’s readers. “We were looking for an organisation that reflected the FT’s global reach and that had a strong educational theme,” he recalls. “We particularly liked [Camfed’s] focus on girls as a catalyst and its role in building up a community of women from the grassroots up.”
In the years since, Camfed has expanded its work to support 3m girls and some boys across Africa. The majority have entered income-earning activities, more than a fifth have gone on to further education and close to half are in leadership positions in their local communities. In addition, each alumna supports on average two more girls from her community through school.
Lucy Lake, Camfed chief executive, says: “It was an amazing opportunity to focus on issues not necessarily highlighted until then in international development, especially around accountability and returns on investment. We have shown how you can accelerate and multiply the returns, with our girls becoming the activists and directly assisting education in their communities.”
Thanks to the generosity of FT readers, Ms Saisha was able to remain in full-time education and graduate from secondary school. She later gained a human resources management qualification and a degree in sociology from the Women’s University in Africa. Now a Camfed mentor who can draw on her own experiences to help others, she plans to start a masters degree in development studies in January.
“I’m going to study as far as I can, and I want to give back to my community and teach them skills,” she says. “Camfed has been a channel of hope for people like me to unleash our potential and control our destinies.”
Donations to Camfed until January 10 2018 will be matched by the UK Department for International Development
A matching scheme for donations has been generously provided by Goldman Sachs