NOTE: This is a guest post from Ann Cotton, the founder and Executive Director of Camfed International.
I’m inspired by being part of a transformative journey with young women in Africa — by seeing the change in a young woman who is quite shy, who doesn’t have a sense of entitlement, as she recognises that she has rights, and develops a sense of her capability. It inspires me to see young women become part of a virtuous cycle of change, to see the catalytic effect that they have on other women’s lives.
One of the first girls that Camfed supported when I launched the organisation 18 years ago, Angeline Murimirwa, is a fantastic example of the transformation that is possible when a girl is supported to pursue her goals. The daughter of subsistence farmers in rural Zimbabwe, Angeline struggled valiantly to stay in school even as a young girl. While at primary school, her parents couldn’t afford to buy her school supplies, so she volunteered to wash dishes for her teachers in exchange for pens. When she reached secondary school, fees and other school costs increased far beyond her family’s means, and her education nearly came to a halt. Happily, our paths intersected, and Camfed supported her to complete secondary school.
Today, Angeline is the Executive Director of Camfed Zimbabwe and she is passing on the benefits of her education to thousands of children and young women.
In her role leading Camfed Zimbabwe, she has helped send 227,906 children to school — children who would have otherwise been deprived of an education. Once those children graduate, Angeline connects them with economic and leadership opportunities, through the Cama network, the association of Camfed alumni. Cama trains young women as entrepreneurs, IT experts, and health educators, and links them to opportunities for higher education. Cama members in Zimbabwe — and across the African countries where Camfed works — are attending university, running their own businesses and working as lawyers, nurses, teachers, accountants.
Drawing on their financial resources, their skills, and their knowledge, Cama members play a powerful role for the next generation of girls. They serve as mentors and role models — reminders that they are not doomed to a life of struggle. Seeing young women from their communities transcend backgrounds of hardship and succeed is a tremendous inspiration to rural girls. Many of their mothers were deprived of a formal education, and have had very few life options. Cama members show adolescent girls that they can shape their own futures. They give them the confidence and the incentive to pursue their dreams when they graduate from school. And they are supported in those dreams. Cama members in Zimbabwe have sent 103,700 children to school out of their own pockets.
To think that this amazing cycle of change began with the education of a single girl — that inspires me.
I have seen, again and again, that change comes from within communities. Women have an emotional bond with the next generation. The role they play is to uplift society, and they pass that role on from generation to generation. If you enable them to play that role more effectively, they will astonish with you with their generosity, their compassion, and their ambition to create a better life for the next generation.
Ann Cotton is the founder and Executive Director of Camfed International, which is widely recognized as an example of best practice in girls’ education. Ann has won numerous awards for her work including an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Cambridge University and the Skoll and Schwab Awards for Social Entrepreneurship.
Camfed fights poverty and AIDS in rural Africa by educating girls and providing them with economic and leadership opportunities when they leave school. Since 1993, more than 1,451,600 children in impoverished areas of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and Malawi have benefited from Camfed’s innovative education programs.
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