Shukuru helps girls invest in their own education.

High school is the road less traveled for a girl in Africa.

The Power of Believing

Today I visited a girl named Carrie*, a delicate, soft-spoken individual who looks younger than her 17 years. As we sit in the modest house she’s now living in with her sister and her sister’s family – no more than 60 square feet in all – she graciously serves me tea and bread. We’re surrounded by the family’s beautifully cultivated cornfields with a stunning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro as she shares with me why she calls this past year the worst time of her life.

When I met Carrie in 2008, she was the brightest of the bright students in the class I was teaching in Tanzania. If she wasn’t raising her hand to answer a question, it was only because she was giving her classmates the opportunity to do so. Intelligent, engaged, and driven, her potential was clear to everyone who met her. Moved by her financial inability to pursue higher education, a fellow foreign volunteer offered to sponsor her secondary education, and we shared her excitement as she immediately enrolled in high school. Yet, just one short year later, Carrie’s sponsor lost his job, like so many others in the U.S., and was unable to follow through on his commitment to pay her tuition fees. Three years on, Carrie is still out of school.

“However good intentioned, the sponsorship model is broken.”

Carrie’s story is not unique. This lack of accountability with sponsorship is all too common, and whether by soliciting support from tourists or being offered tuition coverage from visiting volunteers, sponsorship is currently one of the primary ways that students are able to afford secondary education in Tanzania. However good intentioned, the sponsorship model is broken. Not only is it unreliable, being sensitive to economic downturns and changes in commitment level, it perpetuates a system of dependency. It can shape the expectation that the only accessible way to get ahead is to rely on the charity of others, and in the worst cases, it can leave girls like Carrie in more difficult situations than where they began.

Luckily, Carrie’s apparently fragile demeanor belies an inspiring strength of will and belief in her own potential. Her determination to get an education has remained steadfast; but it has come with serious obstacles. Without the means to fund her education and now years behind her peers, she is ineligible to attend standardized secondary schools. So last year, Carrie moved to a neighboring town to attend classes at a tutoring center where she could study and take exams that allow students to continue their education. To support herself and pay for tutoring, she worked at an orphanage. Her days typically started at midnight when she would awaken to begin studying, sometimes while also tending to infants in the middle of the night, before morning chores at 5 a.m. Her afternoon duties continued after returning from a full day of classes and lasted until late in the evening, only to be repeated the following day.

Unfortunately, these were not the only hurdles Carrie faced. While at the orphanage, she was verbally and physically abused. Like many girls fighting on their own for a better life, Carrie found herself vulnerable and exploited. It is not an understatement when she calls the past year, “the worst time of my life.”

Retreating from this abusive situation, Carrie went to live with her sister, where we meet now reflecting on her experiences. When I ask her how she finds the strength to persevere in spite of everything, her wisdom gives me goose bumps: “From the experiences I’ve had and witnessed, I know I can learn from this and do something to change it from happening to other girls. I trust in myself and I don’t listen if someone tells me I can’t do something because I’m a girl. I know I can make it!” Carrie goes on to say she is more determined than ever to go on. She would like to study international relations so she can represent Tanzania to the world, showing her country’s huge potential.

“If girls believe in themselves, we can create change!”

Witnessing Carrie’s remarkable belief in her self-worth and her resolve to get an education despite the obstacles she’s encountered has only deepened my passion for ensuring that girls are empowered with opportunity to shine their own light, not depend on hand outs. It is for girls like Carrie that Shukuru tirelessly works.

I’m inspired by Carrie’s deep trust in knowing she has a higher potential on a personal and global scale – potential that will undoubtedly be realized. As we wrapped up our visit, we talked about Shukuru’s logo: an image of a girl looking towards the stars, realizing her dreams. Later that evening, I received a text from Carrie, saying: “I couldn’t sleep without expressing this. I can see I am near to reach up to the stars.”

To echo Carrie’s words of strength, “If girls believe in themselves, we can create change!”

I BELIEVE. Do you?

"Tanzanian Schoolgirls"

Shukuru provides girls like Carrie a leg up, not a hand out. Join us!

[*Out of respect for the privacy for the girl and her family, Carrie’s name has been changed,]

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