Picture: Jeff J Mitchell, Getty Images
On this Day of the African Child, I am in London, joining the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, the Rt Hon Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development of the UK, and the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan, Minister for Women and Equalities of the UK, at a roundtable discussion about just what it takes to #LetGirlsLearn. My name is Fiona Mavhinga, and I am here to represent CAMA, the pan-African network of young educated women - women who were once excluded, and who together found the courage to lead change for this generation of girls. Today I will share my story with those around the table:
12 years ago, I was a newly qualified lawyer in Harare, working in a practice with one other woman, among 13 men. 12 years before that, I was a little girl in rural Zimbabwe, waking up at 4 am every morning with my grandmother to sell vegetables on the market, trying to get enough money to pay for the food, stationery, books, and uniform that would keep me in school. My mother traded dried fish for maize, which she sold to try and cover my school fees. Many times we went without food. So many times my hope for an education was almost lost.
In spite of this hardship, I was determined because of the sacrifices my family was making. I remember once I told my grandmother that I found Math hard. She replied, ‘You don’t say that. You say you are going to excel.’ And I did. I got the best results in my school, and in the province. I came to know Camfed – the Campaign for Female Education – through two girls who shared my background of poverty, and who were receiving bursaries from Camfed. Camfed in turn supported me, and I went on to university to study law.
“My story – of a girl struggling to maintain her grip on education – is the story of millions”
My story – of a girl struggling to maintain her grip on education – is as you know the story of millions of girls around the world. So many of my friends in my rural village lost that grip due to poverty, and their lives are so drastically different from mine today because of one thing: an education.
Mrs. Obama, you believe so passionately in the power of girls’ education – that is why you are leading so many worldwide in the drive to Let Girls Learn. I am here today not to convince those around this table of that power – we all know it! I am here to share how. How, together with 33,000 other educated young women across Africa, I am unleashing that power for new generations of girls.
Together with the first 400 young women who were supported through school by Camfed, I founded the CAMA network in 1998. We thought about how we could use our shared experience to help other vulnerable girls through school, and to succeed after they graduate. I can so clearly remember how I felt in those first days – completing school, forming CAMA. We were all unsure about what our futures held. But being together gave us a sense of courage and determination. And a desire to encourage everyone around us.
“The love and support that is in our communities is the greatest resource behind our success and behind the success of other young people…Being together gives us a sense of courage and determination. And a desire to encourage everyone around us.”
CAMA works on the premise that the love and support that is in our communities is the greatest resource behind our success and behind the success of other young people. We support vulnerable children (both girls and boys) who may be facing problems and who have not had the chance to go to school or who are at risk of dropping out of school. Last year alone, using our own resources, CAMA members and our communities supported 263,655 children to go to school, using our own resources. And together with Camfed, CAMA members are engaging with governments at the district, national and international levels to break down the barriers to girls’ education.
Today I coordinate the development and expansion of CAMA across Africa, positioning young women as the experts in what works in achieving girls’ education.
“We do not educate a girl and launch her into the world – she graduates into a community.”
As you can see, through Camfed’s model, we do not educate a girl and launch her into the world – she graduates into a community. An ever-growing community of educated young women that is repeating this process all over from the start for more girls – again and again.
CAMA is truly the embodiment of the ability of community-based solutions to unlock the power of girls’ education. And in three years there will be 130,000 of us, ready to lead the charge. We are an unstoppable human revolution.
Join us. The education of girls is the force that makes all of our lives brilliant. I promise it will transform your life, as it has transformed mine.