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Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: Education as a Solution

By Julie Hindmarsh

Guest blogger and Women’s Opportunity Network (WON) member Julie Hindmarsh sends us this report while on WON’s “Mothers, Daughters and Sisters” Insight Trip to Uganda.

School proprietor Maria Nassaka is pictured here with Opportunity's VP of Women's Philanthropy and WON Insight Trip traveler Ruth-Anne Renaud. Says Ruth-Anne: "I met Maria in January 2009 on my first trip to Uganda. It was so heartening to see her again and to learn that her school is doing well."

School proprietor Maria Nassaka is pictured here with Opportunity’s VP of Women’s Philanthropy and WON Insight Trip traveler Ruth-Anne Renaud. Says Ruth-Anne: “I met Maria in January 2009 on my first trip to Uganda. It was so heartening to see her again and to learn that her school is doing well.”

What a thrill to visit a school that has received loans from Opportunity Uganda! Maria Nassaka’s husband started the school in 2000 with only 50 children. When he died in 2004, she became director, growing it to its current strength of 200 students. She employs 18 teachers and has an average of 18 students in each class. Porridge made from cornmeal produced from her own field feeds the children each day. Parents who can afford more are able to buy a cooked meal for their children at the school.

Since most everyone in Uganda has difficulty paying school fees at times, Maria cannot rely on fees to consistently fund school expenses. Loans from Opportunity have enabled her to construct more classrooms, and she raises 400 chickens, a cow and a calf to help make ends meet. To me, she exemplifies the woman of noble character in Proverbs 31, who “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”

When asked about hopes for her own children, Maria said she wishes “for them to aim high. To get a university education, find work and be able to buy property. I work very hard so they will learn to work hard. Then they won’t come back to me. Many children don’t learn to work and then end up back at their parents’ home. I want my children to succeed.”

In their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn emphasize two tools that improve the lives of women and girls living in poverty in the developing world: education and microfinance. It is widely recognized that education holds the potential of breaking the cycle of poverty in the next generation, yet there is still a great need for increased funding.

Educated girls make a difference.

  • When a girl receives seven or more years of education, she will marry four years later and have 2.2 fewer children.
  • When 10% more girls go to secondary school, the country’s economy grows by 3%.
  • Educated girls grow up to be educated women who will reinvest 90% of their higher average income in their children’s welfare–providing a powerful generational multiplier effect.

Education is out of reach for many Ugandan children–especially girls.

While most African countries have public school systems, many schools are of poor quality or are not accessible to children–especially girls–in rural communities. Public school uniforms often cost $30 or more, the equivalent of one month’s income for many families.

Opportunity International’s Banking on Education school proprietor loan program is proof that necessity is the mother of invention. Responding to her community’s need, an educator like Maria may start a day care or primary school in her home and later seek an Opportunity Trust Group loan to expand her facilities. Now, through the Banking on Education program, a school proprietor can obtain a larger loan of $5,000 to $25,000 to make capital improvements to her school, such as new classrooms, computers, bathroom facilities or safe drinking water. Business skills and community leadership training, as well as ongoing mentoring, helps school proprietors create and implement a successful business plan. Opportunity also provides school fee loans and savings accounts to help more parents afford school tuition. This helps girls, in particular, who are often the first ones pulled out of school when families have financial difficulties.

To expand educational opportunities for children on a larger scale, Opportunity International has piloted education loan programs in Ghana, Malawi and the Dominican Republic, and is now expanding into Uganda.

In Uganda, Opportunity hopes to achieve the following goals through its Banking on Education program.

  • Provide 151 loans to schools
  • Impact 95,000 people including students, parents, employees and family members
  • Encourage the enrollment of more girls (80% of men and only 60% of women are literate in Uganda)
  • Provide student loans and school fee savings accounts to help more parents afford school fees

Since 2007, Opportunity has given 350 loans to private schools serving 87,000 children living in poverty.

This is the third in a series of blog posts from the “Mothers, Daughters and Sisters” Insight Trip to Uganda. Check back in throughout the week for news and inspiring stories about the women and families of Uganda. To get involved and support the women of WON and Opportunity’s work in Uganda, visit the page for our Virtual “Walk” for Uganda.

Julie Hindmarsh is a WON member who lives in Baltimore, Md. She works as a clinical instructor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, specializing in public health and global health care. Previously, she was director of the Women’s Cancer Prevention Program and health planner for the Office of Family Resources in the Baltimore County government. Julie currently serves on the Board of Directors for Opportunity as well as for the organization’s microinsurance subsidiary MicroEnsure.

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