I am honoured to be doing a guest post today from a remarkable women that is changing the part of the world she grew up in. It is the story of growing up in Africa as a young girl and the challenges faced because you are born a girl.
My guest is Angelique Kidjo.
“Grammy Award–winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist, noted for her diverse musical influences and creative music videos. Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva”.[The BBC has included Angelique in its list of the continent’s 50 most iconic figures and The Guardian has listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. (Quoted directly from her Wikipedia Bio.)
This story is not about Angelique’s celebrity but it is about her life on Africa and how she is changing the world one girl at a time through education.
Day 273: Give 273
When I was a young girl in Benin, my parents explained an important truth – a truth that seen displayed time and again on my travels as an artist and, more recently, as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador: there is only one humanity, and we are all linked. The poverty that affects the developing world likewise affects those outside of its direct reaches.
The wisdom of my mother and father goes beyond this, though. They sent me to school at a time when most parents did not allow their daughters to go. We faced our fair share of resistance. Boys at school would harass us and make us miserable. They would do anything to make us quit. Even inside my family, aunts and uncles tried many times to convince my father to stop sending me to school because I should be married. But my parents always stood their ground.
It was around this time that I in conjunction with two other girls of different backgrounds created the word “Batonga”. Instead of fighting the resistance coming from our male peers we would hurl this word at them. To us Batonga meant, “Get off my back! I will do what I want, I will be what I want!” This is why my organization carries this title. As a Batonga girl you have the chance to empower yourself through education and tell all that rise against you that you have the power to do as you please in this world.
I created The Batonga Foundation to support secondary education for girls – Batonga is a new and small charity but we are now supporting over 1200 girls in 5 African nations — Benin, Mali, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Sierra Leone in secondary or post-secondary education. Someday those 1200 girls will most likely be mothers – mothers who will be sure that their children – girls and boys are educated just as my parents fought for my own education. And these girls will also be ambassadors to their communities and by their success will encourage other mothers and fathers to find ways to educate their children. A cycle is being created and it starts right now, right here with my Batonga girls.
Without access to secondary and higher education schooling, those enrolled in primary school not only lack incentive to stay in school, but also lack opportunities beyond it. For girls in particular, this problem compounds others: secondary education, for instance, is the single biggest factor in reducing the threat of HIV and AIDS for girls. For example, one recent survey (in Swaziland) showed that two-thirds of teenage girls in school are free of HIV, whereas two-thirds of girls not in school are HIV-positive. Likewise, every year of girls’ education can reduce infant mortality by 5 to 10 percent. Educated mothers are more likely to sure that their children are vaccinated. They are better able to manage household budgets and provide more nutritious food for their families.
When our girls correspond with us, the joy in their letters lets us know that what we are doing is working! Statistical evidence takes a back seat to a girl like Isatu Conteh, a student in our program in Sierra Leone, who tells us
“I want to thank the Batonga Foundation for the great things they did for me since I started attending FAWE School for Girls in Waterloo. The Scholarship did great things in my school affairs: – such as the provision of text books like :-Mathematic, Social Studies, English Language, Integrated Science, Exercise Book and they even paid my three terms school fees for me, the scholarship did everything for me concerning my school. And I was so appreciate for what they have done for me, Batonga has changed my life since I entre in FAWE school. I thank you very much may God bless you and protect you. Once more thanks.”
Or Emma Kamara who writes,
“I was about stop going to school due to the level of poverty in my family, but the scholarship have me hope for my future as I can now gain education.”
These girls are proof positive that we are making a difference and that they are finding their voices and living the Batonga motto everyday.
I was lucky that my parents understood the power of knowledge and importance of education. By allocating funds toward secondary education and making positive impacts in the lives of girls and their families, the enthusiasm for education will drive its own engine.