Here in the U.S. a pregnant woman's ability to choose to give birth is a topic of heated contention. But in most of the world, a young woman does not even have the ability to choose when to marry, who to marry, or whether to have children. The men in her family will decide all that. But one thing can change that: if she stays in school.
Not for that reason alone, our strategy is simple: we help girls stay in school. With every year a young woman does so, her confidence grows, her sense of agency grows, and her ability to shape her own destiny strengthens.
There is no social safety net in The Gambia. When you are old, one of your sons will take care of you, so it is crucial that at least one of your sons is successful financially. Even if you agree to send your daughter to school for a few years, when it is time for 7th grade, she's reached the traditional marrying age. She probably will have to go to a new school, which in the rural areas can be up to a 60-minutes walk from your home. She will need new uniforms for the new school and probably lunch money. Her mother may never have had even 6 grades of education and she wouldn't mind more help at home, so it may not even seem unkind to take her out of school.
Most of our sponsored students are being raised without a father in the home - he has either died, divorced, been disabled, or abandoned the mother. But even when the father is in the home, he may say, "I've done enough." When a girl does not show up for school, that's when a teacher at the school may call, or her mother will walk to our Coordinator's home with her to ask for help.
We always have more appeals than we can accept. The Gambia may be a small country, but it is bigger than we can tackle fully and although we do our best, we must prioritize. We have various processes by which we evaluate and budget for new students each year. But if a teenaged girl is not in school and asks for help to go back to school, there is no approval process. Our Coordinators should investigate the facts and can say yes on the spot, then tell us the cost, so we can find the funds. We have no priority higher than thsi.
What enables us to do this is the consistent support of several hundred donors who care about The Gambia, understand what is at stake, and find a way to keep supporting students year after year. Which is of course what they need - consistent support, until they graduate. If we have fewer funds, we support fewer students; if we have more, we will support more. It's quite a simple program. No donated funds go to anything except supporting students.
I'll keep this short except to say thank you to those who have donated in the past twelve months, and to ask everyone else to join or re-join us. Everything is at stake for these young women, and so many others like them. There is nowhere else for them to turn, so whether or not we have the funds to help them literally will determine what their life will be like.
This year, thanks to new donors and increased donations we were able to support the education of more than one thousand young Gambian women of "marrying age". They may be mothers one day, but not yet. And when they are, it will their choice. On their behalf, we wish you a
HAPPY NOT-MOTHER'S DAY.
Here are the faces of just a small portion of the young women whose lives have been changed by GambiaRising donors' support this year. We must support them again this year, and we really want to support others who have dropped out or will in the coming year. If you haven't donated lately, please join us today. If you have, thank you for changing so many lives.
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