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Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.

Nigeria’s missing girls: Reflections on 100 days of campaigning

Posted by Emily Laurie, Plan Global Advocacy Manager |

Emily Laurie23 July 2014: I am just as shocked and saddened by the kidnapping of the girls in Nigeria today as I was 100 days ago. And I have no doubt you feel the same, but the question is how does the world keep the momentum and energy up to help get the girls safely released?

At Plan we have worked with many of our partners to campaign for their release, along with millions of other people around the world but they have not been released. As such we all need to reflect on the last 100 days of campaigning and what we can do better to make sure the girls are returned home safely.

Here are my top 5 reflections on the campaigning work we have seen around the world over the last 100 days.

1. Yes assess risk but do it quickly

Wow -  there was a lot of unnecessary delays in responding to the kidnapping. Yes there is a risk in speaking out strongly on such a sensitive situation. But this is the time the world needs leadership. Assess risk smartly but do it quickly, there are hundreds of lives at stake. I know of many institutions and organisations which took over 2 weeks to speak out against the kidnapping. That is too long.

2. Don't change the story

This is mostly a point to the media who within days were looking for a different angle to report the kidnapping. It became an opportunity to criticise the Nigerian government and president - who instantly worked up a new safe school initiative with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education -  for pretty much anything.

Innocent girls were kidnapped while trying to go to school and their lives are at risk - that is the point and as soon as the coverage moves away from this people disengage from what is really at stake and the momentum is lost.

3.Target the right people

You see time and time again in the campaigning world people developing actions and calls which are directed at the wrong people. The current and future safety of the girls lies predominantly in the hands of people who live in Nigeria.

Yes we live in a global world and global leaders can have an impact, but only by working with people in power in Nigeria. Don’t target campaigning work at people who do not have the ability to bring about the change we want to see.

4. Support other campaigners

Over the second half of the 100 days we have seen a lot of criticism about #BringBackOurGirls. Let’s be clear this hashtag raised awareness of the situation to millions of people around the world. Nobody ever claimed a hashtag would set the girls free but it is an important part of the solution.

It has done more to maintain the continued support for the girls than anything else I have seen – including being an engagement tool which brought Michelle Obama into the discussions. We all want the same result so let’s get behind all the campaigning actions people are doing.

5. Don't give up

Change can take time and it can also happen when you least expect it. There are always things going on behind closed doors and it is our job as campaigners to keep up the external support and pressure so negotiators feel empowered by the backing of the global community.

It is great to see the amazing work taking place around the world today to re-engage people 100 days on, such as the vigils being organised around the world by A World At School and through our Because I am a Girl campaign, which will continue to raise awareness and put pressure on the right people to see the girls returned home safely.

I urge you to join us; don’t give up. If you want some ideas check out our campaigning toolkit.

These are just my reflections, but what do you think of the campaigning so far? And what are you going to do next? Let us know using #BringBackOurGirls so we can all keep the momentum going together.

Read more about Plan's call for action to #BringBackOurGirls

Join Plan's Because I am a Girl campaign

Jul 23, 2014 05:10 PM

Ending FGM and child marriage in Kenya

Posted by Carol Sherman, Plan Kenya Country Director |

23 July 2014: Around the world, girls and women are forced to live with the consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

Although Kenya has made strides in outlawing FGM, child marriage and protecting children’s rights, the practise is still rampant.

Often motivated by cultural beliefs, FGM leads to early marriage and health complications and is forced upon girls aged 7 to 12.

Risk stigma

In Kenya, FGM is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act 2011 - a step in the right direction towards completely ending the harmful practise.  However, girls and women are too often under strong social pressure and risk victimisation and stigma if they refuse to be cut.

I listened to amazing stories from girls who had refused the cut and risked alienation from their family and community and those who were cut at an early age without knowing what was happening to them. Women opened up at the Girl Summit Kenya, which was hosted by the British High Commissioner to Nairobi Dr Christian Turner in conjunction with UNICEF and UNFPA.

The summit in Nairobi, which focused on FGM and child marriage, galvanised support in preparation for the UK summit*. It emerged that Kenya has one of the highest child marriage prevalence in the world, estimated to be 25 to 30%.

The Girl Summit is helping to drive momentum towards this unique opportunity that we have to end these harmful practises within a generation.  If we do not act now, 824,000 girls born between 2005 and 2010 will be married before the age of 18 by 2030.

Your dowry is my inheritance

Sadly, we live in a society where as a woman you must prove your worth unlike men who are valued by birth. Most girls drop out of school at a very early age because their parents cannot educate them, reason – they are girls and the only value attached to them is in goats and cows – as bride price.

This is the case in Marimanti, a village in central Kenya where girls are treated as a source of income and fetch 48 goats when they are married.  With such retrogressive cultures, most girls can only dream of a life as homemakers without knowing what could have become of them or the great opportunities in life. What then happens to future generations?

Some of the traditions girls and women have to go through to earn respect in some of the communities across the globe are dehumanising.  So much has been said and continues to be said on FGM and its detrimental effects.

This practise is condemned by many yet still remains deep rooted in some communities. So entrenched is the culture that any reference to ‘backwardness’ is music to the ears of those practising it. Closely linked to the practise is child marriage.

The sad truth is that girls who undergo the cut more often than not abandon school and are made to believe that they are mature enough to manage men in marriage.  Worse still, a girl who is cut is valued more and the bride price is higher.

Religion as a catalyst

I recently visited some ‘agents of change’, and had the pleasure of meeting Rev Mathinja Nduyo from one of the largest churches in Marimanti. The Reverend takes a religious angle to tackling the issue of FGM and brings the community together to dispel the myths surrounding the practise.

Value is placed on marriage and girls who are not married are often despised by the villagers, including women. This affects the girls psychologically, making them opt for the cut just to ‘fit in’. Religious leaders have come together to condemn the practise and relentlessly include its detriments in sermons and pre-marital counselling sessions.

Education is power

Many Kenyan girls are being denied the freedom to control their future – by not getting an education.  It is well known that education is slowly changing attitudes and influencing the choice to have the cut.

However, many girls from underserved communities have challenges in completing their education therefore miss out on the opportunities open to others in respect to acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Plan Kenya not only works with communities to see the end of such harmful practices, but has also worked tirelessly to build the knowledge reservoirs to individuals, groups and community members.

Plan Kenya fulfils its mandate by engaging different sectors of the community in advocating for structures and mechanisms that address people’s rights.  Part of our work is to engage the community and empower it to make the right choices – those that give the best chance for girls and boys to reach their full potential.

At the end of the Girl Summit Kenya we were asked to pledge what we could do to end FGM and early marriage.

Plan Kenya pledges to link up with many strong groups and do more than we currently do to enable communities to have the knowledge to abandon this practise and pursue alternative rites of passage within one generation.

Read about Plan's work in Kenya

Learn about Plan's global pledge to raise £21 million to stop FGM and child marriage

* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites

Jul 23, 2014 07:40 AM

Syria refugees: Helping children back to school

Posted by Arjimand Hussain, Plan Emergency Response Manager |

Arjimand HussainSyrian refugee children in Egypt are living a life of misery, despair and challenging school conditions, blogs Arjimand Hussain, Emergency Response Manager for Plan International.

21 July 2014: Sitting on the sands of the Mediterranean sea in Alexandria on a warm evening, Nada, 11, asks her mother if they’ll be returning to Syria. Her mother is non-committal: "Yes of course, my dear, very soon."

In reality, Syrian children like Nada may not be able to go back, as Syria's conflict rages on. Marooned in Egypt, they miss their families, homes and schools.

Nada often points her finger in the direction of the sea towards Syria, where her father was left behind. Back home she would play on a similar beach with her friends. But Nada's life is different now.

Leaving everything behind

A refugee in Alexandria, separated from everything she loved back home, she shares a rented flat in a crowded city neighbourhood with 12 other people, including some of their former Syrian neighbours. Nada attends a local public school, which she says is too crowded, with a syllabus and learning methods quite different from her school in Syria.

When Nada and her mother escaped from their northern Syria town, there was intense fighting all around. "The girl was horrified, she was shivering, crying and held me tightly," her mother recalls.

Nada's father promised he would join them once they reached Egypt. "But he never comes," Nada mumbles in a distraught voice. She looks pale and is clearly anaemic, as her mother doesn't have enough money to provide her with good food.

Due to the difference in accents, Nada isn't able to communicate with her Egyptian classmates. She has no friends either. She only has one wish: to go back home and rejoin her school, which may not exist anymore.

School drop out risk

Like hundreds of other Syrian refugee children in Egypt, she may drop out of the school if not supported. The schooling grants provided by the UN Refugee Agency to registered vulnerable children have already been cut by half.

"She isn't able to follow the lessons at school. She says she doesn't like to sit in huddled classrooms. The toilets in schools are too dirty and not girl-friendly. She is too distracted and her behaviour has changed," says her mother.

Nada is just one of thousands of Syrian children facing tremendous challenges in coping with refugee life in Egypt. Although the government of Egypt has allowed Syrian children to enrol in public schools, their access is hampered by lack of resources for fees, school books, uniforms, high student-to-teacher ratio and shortage of basic amenities in public schools. Some school drop outs have even started working to contribute towards the family income.

Vital refugee support

The charity I work for, Plan International, is supporting children like Nada to go back to school and supporting Syrian families with fees and other school materials for their children.

Plan will also be supporting remedial classes for Syrian children to follow up lessons and better understand the Egyptian Arabic accent. We’ll also offer training of school teachers to make them embrace more student-friendly techniques, and open-day school activities will seek to provide Syrian and Egyptian children opportunities to engage in sports and recreational activities, thus promoting socialisation and free expression.

Plan is also organising psychosocial support for children and their families. Some livelihood activities for women, young men and girls are also planned to help family incomes and boost social integration and normalisation.

With most public schools running out of space and necessary amenities, Plan aims to start community schools for Syrian children – as a means to get them special attention for coping with the new curriculum and accent.

Still, much more remains to be done for girls like Nada, and their families.

Read more about Plan’s work in Egypt

Jul 21, 2014 04:05 PM

World Population Day: It’s time to get everyone in the picture

Posted by Nicoleta Panta, Plan Count Every Child Advocacy Manager |
Family portrait

11 July 2014: World Population Day: Imagine a typical family photo. You've got mum and dad there, looking happy and proud. You have the kids with their beaming smiles, all cheerful and mischievous. It's a happy moment, captured in time, everyone in their rightful place, everyone accounted for.

Looking at that family picture, you can clearly see how many of them there are. If you're the one in charge of their wellbeing, you have a good idea of how big their house needs to be, how much food they probably go through in a week, who is going to school and who is going to be looking for a job soon – all from that picture.

But let's imagine one of the family members is suddenly not in the picture. Imagine little Maria vanishes, leaving an empty, unfilled space. She's still somewhere, but she's not in the photo. We think we can see everyone, but someone's missing. Again, if you're the one responsible for looking after that family, how could you make that child count without being able to count her?

Planning for populations

That's the kind of question we need to ask ourselves as we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, beyond the completion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) next year. But we aren't talking about just one family, we are talking about entire populations. That picture is like the systems countries have in place to monitor major life events like births, deaths and marriages.

These civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems give governments the data they need to be able to plan for the present and future needs of everyone living in a country.

Got a lot of school-age children in the north but not enough schools, teachers, books? Time to do something about that. Are a lot of people dying from polio in the south? Could be an outbreak. You'll need to make sure you have enough health centres, doctors and vaccines in order to contain it.

There are huge benefits for everyone if governments can get a firm hold of when, where and how many people are born and die. This information is invaluable as it informs decisions on everything from where you need to build schools to what vaccines are required to where infrastructure should be developed.

Invisible children

You might think that this problem isn't that widespread, yet the stats don't lie: more than 100 developing countries around the world don't have efficient, well-function CRVS systems. This has led to a situation today in which 230 million children under the age of 5 are invisible because they haven’t had their births registered. Their governments don't even know they exist.

Those 230 million children will grow up in a world in which it is becoming increasingly important to be able to prove who and how old you are. If your birth has not been registered, this creates barriers to obtaining the legal identity that can open the door to all manner of services and opportunities.

Vital ID

If you want a job in the formal sector you're going to have to prove who you are. If you're trying to get a passport you're going to need your birth certificate. In some countries, children whose births have been registered can't even go to school.

Of course the reality and context is different from one country to the next, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but what we do know is that unregistered births further marginalise groups of people who are already struggling, such as ethnic minorities or migrant workers.

Birth registration gives individuals documentary evidence to prove their legal identity and family relationships, which can be important for accessing essential services. This also has implications for other ensuing rights and empowering activities, like political participation, recourse to justice, nationality, property ownership, opening a bank account, higher education and inheritance.

7 billion people?

Today, on World Population Day, we have a global population of more about 7 billion people – or do we? We aren't properly counting people so we're not making these people count. As we look beyond 2015 and the end of the MDGs, CRVS systems are crucial for achieving and monitoring development targets, especially those related to maternal and infant mortality.

With a strong emphasis on governance, accountability, health and legal identity, we will be on the right path, but improving CRVS systems cannot wait another moment. We are calling on all – governments and development partners – to ramp up investment, knowledge sharing and awareness so we can ensure all countries have well-functioning, efficient and rights-based CRVS systems.

It's time to get everyone in the picture.

Find out more about Plan’s work on birth registration

Jul 11, 2014 01:00 AM

Education for all: Promises are not enough

Posted by David Crone, UN and Plan UK youth representative |

David CroneIt's official - the world will fail to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Governments must step up and deliver on their promises, blogs UN and Plan UK youth representative David Crone.

9 July 2014: Our fears have been confirmed. There is no chance that every child will be in primary education by the end of 2015. The promise that governments made in 2000 will officially be broken.

This harsh reality should not disempower any of us. The global failure of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2 is, in many ways, the result of 7 lost years. The last 7 years - in which progress on access was negligible, in which aid to education fell, and in which governments grew lethargic and momentum slowed.

This failure should not snatch away our hope: it should shock and outrage us – it should make our voices louder, and further strengthen our resolve to cure this injustice. Now is not the time for complacency but for urgent and strategic action.

We’re currently wide of our target by about 58 million children, 1 million more than we were last year. The fact that governments cannot now physically get out-of-school numbers to zero does not mean they shouldn’t be trying their absolute best to get as close to it as they possibly can. As advocates, we need to make that happen.

Asia leads the way

Credit must be given where it is due. Amongst all this inertia and stagnation, some developing countries, especially in West and South Asia, have worked hard to keep their promise, translating their verbal commitments into tangible change. 17 countries have reduced their out-of-school populations by more than 90% in total in just over 10 years.

We can and should applaud them for their efforts – but, as they become more prosperous and socially developed nations, their investment will continue to pay dividends for long after our applause has died down.

Girls walking to school, Liberia

The world must get more children - particularly girls - into school

By abolishing school fees, working meticulously on teacher training and education quality, designing relevant and inclusive curricula and investing in opportunities for the most marginalised – and especially girls – they’ve come a long way. They have shown it can be done.

The most practical and meaningful thing that other developing countries can do now – and especially the ones in sub-Saharan Africa where the largest out-of-school populations reside – is to learn the valuable lessons from the experiences of those countries that have been at the forefront of progress.

They must work to replicate their successes and use their proven strategies in their own countries and amidst their own unique, national contexts. They need to recognise the progress that has been made as evidence that with political will, financial commitment and the right techniques, great gains can be made and our goals can be met.

Plan’s commitment

Plan is committed to helping them do that. In addition to spending €402 million on education programmes over the next 4 years, we will be working with developing country governments to help strengthen their education systems – making them more inclusive, gender-sensitive, accountable and effective.

Through partnership of non-governmental organisations, international organisations and governments, we can strengthen developing country capacity to respond to the learning crisis and make progress at a faster pace and on a larger scale.

As a child-centred organisation, Plan is passionate about youth leadership. Another way that Plan, alongside the United Nations Secretary-General’s Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, of which I am a part, is working to ignite real change is by providing young people around the world with the tools they need to apply pressure to their government and to hold them accountable for their commitments.

The youth advocacy toolkit has been designed by and for young people, drawing upon our experiences advocating from the grassroots to the international stage. We are working to support youth all over the globe to tell their governments that the painfully slow pace of progress we’ve seen for the last 7 years is simply not acceptable – to show them that, as the key stakeholders in the classroom, they deserve to be listened to, and as the citizens of tomorrow, their ambitions must be realised.

Translating words into actions

David (third from right) with other youth advocates handing over a petition at the Global Partnership for Education conference

On 26 June, at the replenishment conference for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), developing countries committed to mobilise $26 billion of their own, domestic resources, allocating it to the education of their people. This is unprecedented: a massive 25% increase on the last conference, and an excellent start of the next chapter of our journey to getting every child into school.

But actions speak louder than words. For the girl whose once vibrant ambitions have been shattered by the realities of child marriage, words mean little. For the boy locked out of the classroom by the need to work and support his family, promises have come and gone. For the children whose fees are unaffordable or whose teacher hasn’t been properly trained – for the children who have been trapped in a cycle of poverty by the global community’s failure – yet another promise, made at the GPE replenishment or within the post-2015 agenda – will provide little comfort and invoke little faith.

Time to get down to business

If the Global Partnership for Education had a dollar for every time the words ‘access’, ‘quality’ and ‘equity’ were mentioned at a conference or summit, it would have enough money today to meet its replenishment target.

Practically every minister seated around the table on 26 June uttered these words in their remarks. Developing countries have shown they are really willing to step up, but now it’s time to get down to business.

Now it’s time for action, for governments to follow through: to spend funds wisely and effectively, prioritise what we know works to boost access and improve quality, and put equity and inclusivity at the heart of their education systems.

If they don’t, I fear that in 2030 I will find myself writing a very similar blog post.

Take action - join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign for girls’ education

Jul 09, 2014 01:10 PM

Kamanda: Young voices can transform the world

Posted by Kamanda, Plan Global Youth Advisory Panel member |
Kamanda

Kamanda speaking out at the Members' Assembly

Young people are at the heart of Plan’s work – including how it governs itself. For Kamanda from Sierra Leone, taking part in Plan’s Members’ Assembly – the organisation’s highest decision-making body – has boosted his confidence to become a leader.

1 July 2014: My name is Kamanda and I am from Port Loko, Sierra Leone. I am part of the Global Youth Advisory Panel for Plan and recently participated in the June 2014 meeting with the Members' Assembly (MA), along with my USA colleague Sara.

I'm very impressed with the way Plan enables young people to take part in its internal decision making, especially since I am the first youth delegate from a country office to meet with the MA – the highest decision-making body of Plan.

Plan leads the way

To me, Plan is the first international non-governmental organisation to involve us – the young people – in this way. These decisions affect our lives, so Plan is really showing that they work with and for young people, and that our voices are valued.

As Plan’s Deputy Country Director for Sierra Leone, Farai Zisengwe, said: "To me, young people are the customers – tell us what we can deliver to you. Instead of the young people waiting for the bread in the shop, we are saying 'come join us in the bakery'."

The Members' Assembly

The MA is such an interesting platform, discussing and taking decisions that affect the whole federation. I have learnt a lot about how the federation works in terms of governance and management, in terms of Plan’s international headquarters, national organisations, regional and country offices. And I think it's really important having us as youth observers intervening there like adults do.

Before the meeting, I worked with the Global Youth Advisory Panel to develop ideas about the issues we would like to intervene on. We then discussed these with Tjipke (Deputy CEO) and Ellen (Chair of the MA), who helped us form the questions.

Sara and I made several interventions on agenda items, including the budget, gifts in kind policy, and the brand. I felt our interventions were well received and sparked discussion, and I sincerely hope that the MA felt our presence and participation was useful.

What I have learnt

To me, the MA is an avenue for basic training on leadership. I found it really inspiring, and it has given me the confidence to speak with and discuss issues with high profile people.

In my country, colleagues and other community people have come to respect me because they see the way I interact with high profile people. In fact, some say "Kamanda, you are born a leader".

I have gained so much experience and confidence that I think I can participate very well in forums in my country where important decisions are made (the House of Parliament, for example).

My future

I really enjoy working with Plan, and I would always like to continue working with and for young people – even when I achieve my dream of becoming an accountant. As well as my general experience of Plan's governance and management, attending the MA has given me a basic knowledge of preparing and managing global accounts. Cheers to Plan!

I hope that other young people also get involved in Plan's work. If we all speak up, we can make a difference. Let's come together as a force and speak with one voice. With our voice, we can transform the world!

Read Plan USA Youth Advisory Board member Sara's post on the Plan USA blog

Learn more about Plan’s child participation work

Jul 01, 2014 03:35 PM

Education – the stimulus every country needs

Posted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer |

26 June 2014: Today in Brussels ministers of education and finance from developing countries, donors and international organisations will decide the fate of the world's 57 million out-of-school children.

Hosted by the European Commission, governments from around the world will make their financial pledge to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) - a pooled fund at arms length of the World Bank that directs much needed investment into developing public education provision in the world’s poorest countries.

Since 2003, the GPE has disbursed over US$3.7 billion in grants to 59 countries such as Niger, Pakistan and Malawi to strengthen and extend education opportunities to the world’s poorest and most marginalised children.

Demand outstripping funds

Global leaders must provide investment to stop the education financing crisis

Yet, with close to US$1.3 billion in grant requests from country partners to support the implementation of their education sector plans in 2013 alone, the GPE is facing higher than expected demand that is far outstripping its supply of funds.

Former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, current chair of the GPE, has said the fund needs to secure at least US$3.5 billion of pledges for the period 2015 to 2018 in order to deliver on the increased ambition of many countries and the growing demand for education.

US$3.5 billion would be a good start, but still modest, compared to the current financing gap in education estimated by UNESCO to be around US$36 billion. Civil society is calling on donors to contribute a minimum of US$4 billion to the GPE.

Education financing crisis

Global leaders must take the opportunity this replenishment round provides to halt this education financing crisis. All delegations should display their commitment to education - not with more words - but with investment.

Developing country governments need to examine State resources in order to move to spending upwards of 20% of national budgets on education, with at least 50% of this for basic education and improving all aspects of the quality of education.

To get there, governments should review budgeting practices and choices, ensuring appropriate policies to deter corruption and wasteful spending, strengthen domestic tax bases, and capture wealth from natural resources for investment in vital public services like education and health.

On the donor side, governments must increase the aid they spend on education, reversing the 10% decline between 2010 and 2012. Donor governments must also provide better aid, spending less for example on scholarships to study in their own countries.

Economic sense

The GPE and the World Bank should do more to ensure education becomes a beneficiary of innovative financing for development, which amounted to over US$50 billion between 2000 and 2008. The private sector should embrace the benefits of a global pooled fund for education that supports national education sector plans and significantly increase funding to public education systems.

For all, the case for investing in education is clear. Research shows that the estimated economic gain from achieving universal primary education exceeds the estimated increase in public spending required to achieve it.

The research found that a country such as The Gambia loses about 10% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of having a high number of out-of-school children. In Mali and Nigeria, the projected cost of out of school children is over 2 years of average GDP growth.

Every country’s future is linked to its children

Every country’s future is inextricably linked to the future of its children. Every child’s future is inextricably linked to the education they receive. However figures from UNESCO show that at current rates, universal completion of primary education will only be achieved by poor rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa by the year 2086.

This situation is unjust and a huge waste of potential. Supporting education is one of the best investments that can be made to help end poverty. This current crisis in education will only improve if the world - governments, donors, private sector and international organisations - start to take the situation seriously, and invest.

What happens this week in Brussels will be an important signal from global leaders about their commitment to key development and human rights issues and their resolve to work together. The life chances of 57 million children out of school weigh in the balance.

Read about Plan’s 10 days of global action for education and join us as we  tweet live from the GPE pledging conference in Brussels.

Jun 26, 2014 10:44 AM

Why 85% of girls are out of school in Sierra Leone

Posted by Mary Matheson, Plan film director/producer |

Mary Matheson19 June 2014: The sun is going down and the light in the dank meeting room is fading, but the horror stories keep coming – the darkness seems to fall with the weight of what I am hearing.

I’m in a small town in western Sierra Leone, making a documentary with Shona Hamilton for Plan International looking at why 85% of girls here drop out of secondary school.

So here we are sitting around a table with 9 teenage girls. Each girl recounts her story. Each girl has faced ruthless beatings. Each girl has been forced to have sex. Each girl has been cut (as in female genital cutting). Each girl just wants to go to school.

Relentless violence

I’ve been a journalist/film-maker for 20 years and have covered stories in war-ravaged countries like Colombia, Pakistan and Liberia. But I am still overwhelmed by the relentless violence these girls have had to endure in their short lives.

I listen to Plan’s local child protection officer, Esther Eliot, who translates for me and wonder how she can bear repeating their stories to me.

Wadia*, a 15-year-old waif of a girl, who has a scabies-looking skin problem, reveals she is pregnant. As Wadia gets up to leave and the next girl sits down to talk, Esther cannot continue. Her mind can’t leave Wadia, and she needs a break to quickly follow up and check how Wadia can get medical attention.

I am relieved – the girls are given drinks and snacks as we break, but no one says anything. My mind is spinning as I look around at their young faces. All are in uniforms. Some are wearing cute royal blue berets. Their outfits give no clue to their struggle just to go to school.

Poverty key

Girl students, Sierra Leone

The determination of girls to go to school is astounding

Child marriage, teenage pregnancy, discrimination, violence – the reasons for dropping out are multiple. But at their root lies poverty. When girls reach the age of 12 or 13 their families feel they should start contributing to the family income. School fees ($15 - $30 per year) are an added expense that many can’t afford.

Girls are so desperate to go to school, they will sell anything: Christiana* sold her mobile phone to pay for shoes and books; Selina* saved for 16 months selling potatoes in the market; Augusta* sells peanuts and butterscotch at break time in school to save up for her final term of school this year.

Some girls even sell their bodies, not as sex workers, but in “transactional sex”, where a man pays for a girl’s schooling, food and often support the whole family, in exchange for sex. As soon as the girl gets pregnant, the man leaves.

Mothers aged 14

Six of the 9 girls I spoke to had given birth at 14 or 15 years old. Too young to understand, girls are duped into believing these are real relationships that could lead to marriage.

“Since I was small, I didn’t have the experience to know whether he really meant what he said.  I thought he was going to marry me. I was 15 when I gave birth,” explained Selina.

As we leave that night, I am reeling from their stories of loss, rape and violence, as well as a sense that this is just the tip of the ice-berg – talk to any girl and she will have a similar story to tell. But I am also astounded at the determination of each of these girls to go to school no matter what is thrown at them.

Girl Power – we have no limits!

The next day we’re greeted by a very different scene as 25 girls from the local ‘Girl Power’ group come singing into the room: “We can be doctors, we can be a lawyers, we can be teachers, we have no limits! Women of the nation - we can do what men can do!”

A project set up by Plan, Girl Power sounds like a marketing dream. But it’s more than that – it helps girls become financially independent, and also offers support to girls who have dropped out. Much of this work is done by the girls themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Christiana is president of this group and is one of the girls we interviewed the previous night. Until secondary school, she came top of her class. But her family couldn’t afford to pay for her school fees and married her off to a much older, violent man, who forced her to have sex with him. After 5 months, she managed to escape, and now lives, along with 2 other girls, with a female teacher.

When I ask her where she gets her strength and determination she says softly:

“Sometimes when I am at school, I remember my story and cry. My friends come and ask me why I’m crying but I don’t tell them. But If I see another girl going through the same as me, I tell her not to despair. No situation is permanent, it will come to an end.”

Hear from Christiana and some of the other girls - watch the film ‘Girls Interrupted’

See Christiana in action at the youth takeover of the African Union, calling for increased investment in education

Support 10 Days To Act for global education - sign the petition now

* Note all names have been changed
Jun 19, 2014 11:45 AM

Liberia's President: Let's educate our leaders

Posted by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia |
Liberia's President Sirleaf visitng a Plan school project, 2011

Africa's first female head of state, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, visiting a Plan school project in 2011

As young people across the world lead 10 days of global action for education, Liberia’s President and Plan 'Because I am a Girl' campaign champion, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, speaks out on the importance of girls’ education for Africa's future.

This article was first published on CNN

What factor has the power to transform individual lives, communities, nations and the world?

The answer to this complex question is a simple one: education. While it is widely accepted that there is no one solution to lift the millions across our globe out of poverty, it is also equally accepted that a key cornerstone of addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges is through providing a quality education to all children, especially girls.

Despite increasing numbers attending school in recent years, 126 million children remain out of primary school and lower secondary school around the world. Some 65 million of these children are girls. The highest rate of girls not in school is across the African continent, where in sub-Saharan Africa nearly 4 out of 5 poor rural girls are not completing primary school. There are an estimated 250 million children worldwide of primary school age who can’t read, write or do basic maths - more than half of whom have completed 4 years of schooling.

It is unacceptable that in 2014 - less than a year away from the deadline the international community agreed to get all children into school - that 30 million girls in Africa are denied their basic human right to a quality education. Ensuring that every child goes to school, stays in school and learns something of value while there will require firm commitments and action by governments to invest in education and prioritise the education of its girls.

Africa Rising?

Africa’s economy has grown at more than 5% annually over the past decade - some of the highest economic growth in the world - leading many to use the phrase of ‘Africa Rising’ when describing its countries. However, a country’s economic growth does not always lead to development or improvement for its poorest citizens. To truly rise as a nation by building an equitable, sustainable and peaceful society, governments must ensure that spending on education is prioritised and used well.

According to recent research, the estimated economic gain from achieving universal primary education exceeds the estimated increase in public spending required to achieve it.

One extra year of schooling can increase an individual’s earnings by 10%. Girls who complete a primary education are likely to increase their earnings by 5 to 15% over their lifetimes. Each additional year of schooling could raise average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 0.37%.

Girls’ quality education key

If all women had a primary education, child marriages and child mortality could fall by a sixth, and maternal deaths by two-thirds. Investing in girls’ education could boost sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural output by up to 25%. Some countries lose more than $1 billion a year by failing to educate girls to the same level as boys. Without education, how can a country’s future citizens take part in growing their economy and reap benefits? Without education how can a country grow?

It is however, not good enough to only increase the number of children receiving education.  Children and young people must learn basic knowledge, skills and competencies, such as reading, writing, critical thinking, problem solving and maths, that are needed to live healthy, safe and productive lives.

In Liberia, across the African continent and, indeed, around the world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that going to school is not the same as learning. This is of grave concern given that many of the social and economic returns from an education are found to come from learning outcomes rather than number of years in school.

Smart investments

To accomplish this, more financial resources that are better spent are needed to build a strong education system capable of improving both access and learning for all. But making informed decisions about those resources requires good data.

Information on teachers, how to best support them to do their jobs, and information on how students are learning are crucial for knowing what policies and programmes will be effective. By using our resources more effectively and focusing them on those children that are currently left behind, we can have some of the best educated citizens in the world - citizens who will be responsible for building a peaceful and prosperous future.

At current rates, the poorest girls in sub-Saharan Africa will only achieve universal primary completion in 2086. To not invest in and prioritise girls’ education, we as African leaders are telling our women that we do not care about you and your child’s future. As one of those women, I will not accept this and I urge all our leaders to invest in our children’s future. Investing in girl’s education is not only a moral imperative, it is a smart investment.

African Union youth takeover

On 16 June, the Day of the African Child, young people from across Africa stood at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, and across Africa, to call on their governments to dedicate more resources - the recommended 20% of national budgets - to education and develop strong and transparent monitoring systems to track effectiveness and impact. Better information on learning outcomes and public spending is key to achieving our goals.

These young people want a brighter reality and they demand that their governments stand up to meet their responsibilities and commitments, in order to build a future for their children, a future for their country.

When nearly 60 developing countries come together in Brussels at the end of June, as part of the Global Partnership for Education, they will be asked to commit to increase education spending. If they do, we will know if they have listened to these young people, and then the phrase, ‘Africa Rising’, can be used in all truthfulness.

Take action now - join Plan's 10 days of global action for girls’ education

Learn about Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign for girls' education

10 Days To Act for girls' education infographic

Jun 17, 2014 01:35 PM

It's time to stop history repeating itself – it's time to act

Posted by Nigel Chapman, Plan Chief Executive Officer |

On 16 June,1976, around 200 children were shot and killed in the streets of Soweto because they dared to suggest they had the right to an education.

On 16 June, 2014, the fate of 276 girls, who dared to try and go to school in Nigeria, still lies in the hand of their abductors.

It has been 38 years since the tragedy of that day in June 1976, which led to the African Union creating an annual Day of the African Child. Thirty eight years and yet it seems so little has changed. Poverty, violence and discrimination against children across the continent, and around the world, are still preventing millions of girls, and boys, from accessing their right to an education.

Girls continue to be the most affected, with 65 million adolescent girls out of school around the world, and as many as 4 out of 5 girls not even completing primary school in some sub-Saharan African countries. Why? Because governments are still not investing enough money in education and when they are, they are not investing well enough.

More funding needed for basic education

Millions of children - mostly girls - are still not accessing their right to an education

The education community has set an international benchmark for all governments to spend a total of 20% of their national budget on education, with at least half of that to be spent on basic education. Despite increases, such as an average rise of 6% annually since 2000 in sub-Saharan Africa, investment is far from keeping up with the demand for public education.

Official Development Assistance (ODA) allocated to education has fallen 10% between 2010 and 2012.  We are in an education financing crisis, with some estimates putting the financing gap at some $26 million each year.

The money that is available needs to be spent in a way that provides sustainable, quality education for all children, including the most marginalised and hard to reach. This is why we are calling on all governments to undertake a gender review of their Education Sector Plans and fund the results, to ensure measures are taken to specifically target girls. At present rates, poor rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa will not all have access to primary education until 2086!

Governments must also listen to the people who know the most about their education experience, children and young people themselves. They must be part of the solution.

Let’s stand up for the children of Africa

This year’s Day of the African Child theme is quality education for all children. The day provides us with an opportunity to stand up and say this is not acceptable, to say it is time for governments to show they care about the education of their children; the future of their countries.

This is why at Plan International we have organised a children’s takeover of the African Union on 16 June. We are supporting children from across the continent to call on their leaders to step up and invest more in education.

We are working on the day with our partners at A World At School, UNICEF, Women Thrive International and many more to support children and young people to run events in over 70 countries around the world to make the same call. This includes calling on donor governments to increase their support for global education. And we are calling on them to act now and to show their investments when they have the opportunity in 10 days’ time.

On 26 June, the Global Partnership for Education hosts its replenishment conference for 2015-2018. There has never been a more urgent need for action.

10 days of action – join us now!

This is why we are starting our 10 Days To Act campaign on 16 June. If you join us we can make sure governments are increasing their investment in education and providing all children with the safe, quality education they deserve.

Here are 10 simple ways to show your support over the next 10 days. We must make sure that in another 40 years there are no further tragedies occurring simply because children dared to go to school.

Join 10 Days To Act for global education

Jun 15, 2014 01:00 AM
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