THE BLOG
10/09/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2014

Celebrating the Girls Who Can

Carine Birungi's story is both a commonplace tale in eastern Congo and the poignant account of an individual life turned upside down.

The 19-year-old grew up in Shari in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where her father Faustin owned around 150 cows. But then rebels came in January 2003 and everything changed.

"(The rebels) took all my father's cows. We lost everything. Our house was burned. Many people were killed, including my father," she said.

Everyone in the village tried to flee. Carine was separated from her mother, Dhive, but found her again two weeks later in a refugee camp in the town of Bunia.

"We were very happy to find my mother alive. We praised the Lord a lot for caring for us during the war in Shari," she said.

Sadly, Carine's mother died shortly afterwards. With no one to look after her, Carine dropped out of school and started working to support herself. Later she heard about the Bunia Children's Hope Centre (BCHC) and decided to visit it.

Carine, who loves gospel music and volleyball, was accepted into the BCHC's programme to support orphan children by settling them with foster families and providing access to free education, school lunches and healthcare.

Emerge poverty free works with the BCHC to help over 700 orphans who have been placed with foster families in Bunia. Years of conflict, between myriad rebel groups, in the resource-rich region have devastated local lives, separating families and destroying livelihoods.

Carine studied hard, and now she is in secondary school. Her goal is to finish her studies in 2015-16 and start teaching in the BCHC's primary school.

Her story is a bittersweet reminder of the importance of education in rebuilding lives after conflict. When families are displaced by fighting, their present lives are plunged into uncertainty and danger, but their futures are also compromised.

Emerge poverty free works with BCHC to try to rebuild these fractured lives, ensuring that orphaned children do not drop out of sight but instead can rediscover their potential to build better lives for themselves and their communities.

As the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, Carine's story speaks to the paramount importance of education, particularly for girls. It is apt that this year's theme is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence, in recognition of the importance of investing in adolescent girls and preventing and eliminating the various forms of violence these girls experience all too often.

One of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to achieve universal primary education. Another is to promote gender equality and empower women.

With its partners in the DRC, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi, emerge poverty free is working hard to turn these promises into reality, one community at a time. Emerge poverty free believes that the best way to break the cycle of poverty is to enable communities to address their needs and priorities themselves.

In September, Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, announced an almost $600 million plan to encourage the enrolment of girls in secondary schools worldwide. She made the announcement at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, and the funds are expected to help around 14 million girls over the next five years.

"We know when girls have equal access to quality education in both primary and secondary schools, cycles of poverty are broken, economies grow, glass ceilings crack and potential is unleashed," Clinton said.

These words would undoubtedly ring true to 17-year-old Mugisa Bakaswara. She too was brought back to life by the BCHC. Also from the Ituri region, her father died of typhoid when she was a child. Later, rebels killed her mother and her two brothers disappeared. For a while, she found shelter with a relative whose husband was also killed during the fighting.

When she heard about the BCHC and its role in helping orphan children, she went to Bunia, was settled with a foster family and enrolled in school.

"I am learning so that in the future I can become a nurse," she said. "BCHC has helped me a lot since I lost my parents. I hope to one day become somebody who will serve the nation."