By Matt Kertman, Communications and Marketing Associate, BRAC USA
When Sa'a jumped from the moving truck, she wasn't thinking about her education that had just been cut short. She was fleeing for her life.
One of the more than 250 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, two years ago, Sa'a recounted that heartbreaking story to members of Congress recently, renewing calls to rescue the hundreds of still missing schoolgirls and finally #bringbackourgirls.
Sa'a is now a college student in the U.S. Her story is a reminder of what is possible when girls are given the chance to receive a quality education in a safe place. Her story also illustrates what we stand to lose when a girl's education is taken away.
Every day, BRAC helps girls all over the world reach their full potential through education and leadership opportunities. There are millions of girls like Sa'a, and we are determined to ensure that no girl is born into a community where she isn't given the chance to learn and become a leader.
In Karamoja, Uganda, BRAC enabled Maria, a child bride forced to marry at the age of 10, to earn the education she had been denied. Now, she is a teacher working to educate girls in a region where they were previously denied an education.
Girls in the world's poorest countries continue to fight for access to quality education, as well as job and leadership opportunities. According to the Brookings Institution, a 100-year gap persists between education levels in developed and developing countries. And this is worse for girls. There are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school globally, according to the UN Global Education First Initiative.
At the same time, the evidence tells us that educating girls is among the best tools in our tool box for improving development outcomes globally. Educated girls grow into women who invest 90 percent of their income in their families, improving the health, nutrition and education of their children. Girls' education has also proven to delay early marriage, and each additional year of primary schooling for girls is correlated to a 10 - 20 percent increase in their future wages.
That's why BRAC is proud to report significant progress on its pledge to support girls' education in developing countries.
At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in September 2014, BRAC joined the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, along with more than 50 other partners, in a global commitment to advance girls' education. Through this commitment to action, known as the Collaborative for Harnessing Resources and Ambition for Girls' Education (CHARGE), BRAC pledged to reach 2.7 million additional girls by expanding access to schools, ensuring school safety, improving the quality of learning, helping girls transition to the world of work, and supporting leaders in girls' education in developing countries.
This commitment would ensure that every girl has access to a quality education, in a safe school, with leadership and job opportunities. It will empower a generation of girls worldwide.
Just 18 months later, BRAC has enrolled 1,158,151 girls in the developing world in schools where they are receiving a high quality education. With three years yet remaining, we have made real progress against our specific goal of expanding access to educational opportunities for 1.33 million girls. This achievement illustrates one of BRAC's key capacities: the ability to deliver safe, relevant and quality girls' education at scale.
"Millions Learning: scaling up quality education in developing countries," a report released this week by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, cites BRAC's Non-Formal Primary Education (NPFE) program in Bangladesh as an example of scaling education delivery for the world's poor. First implemented in the 1970s, the NFPE today has graduated more than 11.2 million students, making BRAC the largest, secular, private school provider in the world. Better yet: the dropout rate from these schools in Bangladesh is below 5 percent, while pass rates often exceed government schools.
The #MillionsLearning report details five recommendations to enhance quality education, including the sharing of new ideas through a network of idea hubs. As part of its CHARGE commitment to support leaders in girls' education in developing countries, BRAC also pledged to invest $6 million in the BRAC Institute for Educational Development at BRAC University in Dhaka, making it a global learning hub for innovation, research, training, assessment and advocacy on education approaches and quality in the developing world.
There is much to celebrate: overall, BRAC has raised more than 75 percent of its pledged $280 million to support girls' education, work and leadership opportunities. We have also trained 44,485 girl mentors, marking an ambitious 85 percent progress against our goal of 52,000 trained mentors by 2020. These kinds of outcomes would not be possible without the generous support of our many funders and partners.
And, in Uganda, BRAC's Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents (ELA) program, which empowers teenage girls socially and financially and provides safe spaces for them to socialize and receive mentoring and life skills training, is preparing ELA mentors to become 'play leaders' as part of a new partnership with the LEGO Foundation to improve early childhood development through play-based learning. This is the kind of low-cost, high-impact collaboration that characterizes BRAC's track record of involving local communities.
ELA is BRAC's fastest-growing program outside Bangladesh, with more than 100,000 girls now participating in five African countries and more than 168,000 girls in similar clubs in Bangladesh and Afghanistan. A 2012 study evaluating the effectiveness of the ELA program, by researchers from the World Bank's Africa Gender Innovation Lab, the London School of Economics and others, found that participants' reports of having sex unwillingly decreased by 83 percent over a one-year period, due to participation in the program, while the likelihood of an adolescent girl being engaged in income generation increased 35 percent.
As part of its CHARGE commitment, BRAC has empowered more than 30,000 girls already in their transition to work - but there is still much to do. We know that educated, empowered women are more likely to break the cycle of poverty for their family. We also know that a generation of female leaders will keep working to close the gender gaps in the classroom and in the workplace, breaking that cycle of inequality. BRAC wants to deepen and expand its ELA program to reach an additional 192,000 girls by 2020 with robust and relevant livelihood training that will ensure sustainable economic independence.
We are calling for supporters, partners and others interested in empowering girls worldwide to join us in closing our remaining funding gap to reach an additional 1.6 million girls by 2020. BRAC wants to provide work opportunities for unemployed young people, especially girls, in Bangladesh by scaling a program that provides a pathway to work through apprenticeships. We also want to reach more girls through our pre-primary and primary education programs, equip 25,000 more teachers, and ensure 356,000 more girls have a safe space to learn.
Developing countries are struggling to scale quality education for girls and ensure safe spaces where they can learn. Girls like Sa'a and Maria are proof of what girls can do for themselves and others when given the chance. Join us to reach more girls worldwide and let's make sure every girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential.