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Once they were among the most marginalized girls in their rural villages, denied their right to an education through unrelenting intergenerational poverty. Last week, they shared their stories of transformation through education. They joined hands with Graça Machel, and with Camfed’s new patron, Julia Gillard, during strategic meetings designed to change the prospects for communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Now the leaders of Camfed's CAMA alumnae network are rewriting the future of generations to come.

“Nothing is so daunting as the future faced by a girl if she does not have the chance to go to school. Together, we have set out to rewrite her future.” - Lucy Lake, CEO, Camfed

Camfed’s new patron, Julia Gillard, with Camfed CEO Lucy LakeCamfed’s new patron, Julia Gillard, with Camfed CEO Lucy Lake

The unique CAMA network has emerged as a powerful, unstoppable movement of young women change agents in Africa, which is set to grow to more than 130,000 by 2019. Together with CAMA members, their communities, and partners from around the globe, Camfed has pledged to support one million girls through secondary school by 2020, and open up new pathways to independence and leadership.

“We are at the threshold of something phenomenal. This is going to benefit so many generations.” - Dolores Dickson, Executive Director, Camfed Ghana

“It’s not just our background that makes us powerful. It’s when we combine our background and the education that we received, to be able to say, ‘No more poverty. No more default settings for the poor,’ ” says Angeline Murimirwa, once supported through school by Camfed in Zimbabwe and now the organization's Regional Director. On average, each Camfed alumna supports three children not in her immediate family to go to school. Since 1993, together with their communities, CAMA members have supported the education of 483,768 vulnerable children.

Shaping the strategy to support more children

Last week, elected leaders of the CAMA network from Zimbabwe, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi joined Camfed’s executive teams in Johannesburg for meetings to shape the strategy for CAMA over the coming years. The aim is to grow the power and structure of the network to support its members in the critical transition period after secondary school, and to effectively rally CAMA’s expertise and resources to eventually support millions more marginalized children.

“Our challenge is to find the right programs to enable those young women in the CAMA network to pursue their educational goals, to pursue professional training, to set up businesses, to create wealth, to create employment, to sustain not only their families but their communities. And I believe that this organization and the women in this room are uniquely placed to do so.” - Miranda Curtis, Chair of the Board of Camfed, meeting with CAMA leaders in Johannesburg

Miranda Curtis, Chair of the Board of Camfed International, with Camfed Regional Executive Director Angeline MurimirwaMiranda Curtis, Chair of the Board of Camfed International, with Camfed Regional Executive Director Angeline Murimirwa

We share an audacious vision for the future

“We know that the wisdom and capacity to solve problems lies within communities. It just needs for additional resources to be positioned right to unlock this capacity, this rich capital that otherwise lies latent,” says Lucy Lake. She adds that those resources are most effectively invested in girls who become young women leaders with a vision for their communities. This is Camfed’s model. Angeline explains,“As alumnae we don’t just share a background of deprivation, of families who lacked the material means to send us to school. What we share which is most powerful is an audacious vision for the future - a world in which each and every child is educated, protected, respected, and valued. We believe that as long as every child gets an opportunity, they can be anything and anyone they want to be.”

Graça Machel: Social change is built by movements

“Don’t talk vaguely. Get details. Be organized. Identify the priorities - those that deliver structurally and have huge impact. Tell governments what you have been able to achieve, then challenge them to do their part.” - Graça Machel advising CAMA leaders

CAMA leaders were able to share that vision first with Graça Machel, the revered international champion for social justice, who met with the young women on February 9th in Johannesburg to share her journey and expertise as a female politician and role model. “Social change is built by movements...I want you to really think of how to make this movement strong, to be visible and tell the story loudly so that it can inspire others,” Mrs. Machel told the young women, inviting CAMA to build a similar movement in Mozambique.

Fiona Mavhinga (founding member of CAMA), Graça Machel, Angeline Murimirwa (founding member of CAMA and now Camfed Regional Director) and CEO Lucy LakeFiona Mavhinga (founding member of CAMA), Graça Machel, Angeline Murimirwa (founding member of CAMA and now Camfed Regional Director) and CEO Lucy Lake

It’s possible to break the mold

The next day, at a symposium for girls’ education and young women’s empowerment hosted by Camfed, Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Partnership for Education, joined forces with CAMA and Camfed as the NGO’s new patron. “For us, you represent that it’s possible to break the mold,” CAMA’s leaders told Julia, who listened intently to the stories of three of the young women.

Alice from Zambia, destined to be a child bride until Camfed stepped in, now works with district officials to keep girls in school. “Currently as a CAMA member, I am supporting four orphaned children. To me, taking those girls in has assured me of them having three meals; they have a shelter; they are able to go back to school. I know what it feels like, so I want to make a positive impact on my community,” she told Julia Gillard.

Alice Saisha from Zambia tells her story of transformation through educationAlice Saisha from Zambia tells her story of transformation through education

Selina from Ghana, who has worked tirelessly to strengthen CAMA’s institutional framework in her country, ended her story by saying, “I aspire to become a human rights lawyer, to be the voice of the voiceless and fight for the right of the girl child.”

Talent from Zimbabwe, who excelled at primary school, though too poor to afford a pair of shoes, flew when she was supported at secondary level. Now she saves lives as a medical doctor in a remote rural community. “As Camfed helped me as a child, I’m planning to specialize in my profession to become a pediatrician and save children’s lives and give them better health, so that we have a future generation of good and healthy young people.”

Julia Gillard: A movement with the power to transform Africa

Julia Gillard described her own life as being singularly influenced by the transformational power of education, and her desire to bring the opportunity of education to all children. She underlined that through individual stories, Camfed has already taught her much about what works in international development and girls’ education.

“Camfed that has brought to me the very clear insight that if you can deal with poverty, then the girls with their inherent strengths will seize the opportunities given. That if you can get the right resources to the right girls at the right time, then you will enable them, because they are strong and smart and resilient, to change their lives.” - Julia Gillard, patron of Camfed

“I have a sense of the power of this organization not only now but what you are going to be in the future,” Julia said. “Just stop and think about a million girls determined to change not only their futures, but to change the futures of other girls in Africa. This is more than an organization, it’s more than a development model - it is a movement, a movement with the strength to sweep and reshape Africa. You have made such smart decisions so far that there has to be every degree of optimism and enthusiasm that the leadership of Camfed, that the leadership of the alumnae, will continue to make great decisions, that enable the full power of this movement to be expressed as a movement for change.”

Julia Gillard speaking at Camfed’s girls’ education symposium in JohannesburgJulia Gillard speaking at Camfed’s girls’ education symposium in Johannesburg

The young women listening to Julia represent a new generation of leaders who are breaking through new frontiers. Last year, CAMA members were elected to political office in District Assemblies in Ghana and chosen to be the official monitors in elections in Tanzania. “You Julia have changed the default settings of what it means to be a world leader,” Lucy Lake told the new patron, “And we in Camfed are setting out to change the default settings of what it means to be a rural girl in Africa, and to unlock a new generation of leaders.”