by Ayantu Ayana
(OPride) — Much has been said about the benefits of investing in the education of girls and women over the last three decades.
The Minnesota-based Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives (REAL), a nonprofit that is working to empower girls in Ethiopia, has seen those benefits in action.
Founded in the early 2000s, REAL provides sponsorship, education and leadership development for disadvantaged girls in grades 6th through 12 in Ethiopia. REAL envisions a world in which girls and women are in control of their choices and lives.
Tsehai Wodajo, REAL’s founder and its volunteer executive director, began putting into practice that vision using a grassroots based, holistic model for empowering girls through education ten years ago.
“It is very inspiring to see these girls as leaders of their lives, families and their communities…they are the future of Ethiopia,” beams Wodajo, who has met many of the REAL girls and their families.
REAL will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding on May 2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So far, more than 300 girls have participated in REAL programs across Ethiopia. Each girl has anywhere from five to eight family members who are directly helped by REAL’s grant.
More than 2,000 family members have been financially assisted to date. Fifty three girls have been admitted into universities, studying in a variety of fields, including mechanical engineering, which traditionally had low representation of girls.
In the last decade, REAL has grown to nine sites across the country. REAL girls are completing their high school education and are continuing with advanced college and vocational program opportunities — they are graduating and getting jobs. They are empowered to have a say and choice in their lives.
By the time REAL graduates complete the 12th grade, not only do they have their own bank accounts, they also have years of regular savings under their belt. They are well equipped to manage their time, a track record of community involvement and are empowered to make decisions which are in line with their values and long term goals. They are ready to take leadership positions within their communities and the country.
REAL’s leadership model includes local committees, a mentor and board of directors that is based in the United States. At each site, a local committee reviews and selects REAL program participants using a rigorous eligibility criteria developed by the board. A mentor works with the recruits and their families to determine their educational goals and ensure that they are on track to meet those goals.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one in five girls make it to secondary school. Increased gender equity in households, lower rates of childbearing, improved child nutrition, and increased reduction in poverty are some of the positive developments of educating girls.
REAL believes that the most effective way to contribute to women’s education is through removing barriers which keep even the most brilliant of students away from school.
The celebration starts at 6pm.
Address: Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave & Franklin, Minneapolis 55403.
Follow REAL on Twitter: @real_africa
REAL relies on volunteers and partners for most of its work. More information on ways to get involved can be found at their website: Real-africa.org.
*Ayantu manages REAL’s social media accounts.