Lucy Lake, CAMFED Chief Executive Officer So just to give a few words as a backdrop around CAMFED before passing on to my colleague, Fatima. So, CAMFED supports girls to go to school and then enables young women to step up as leaders of change. And the focus of our work is in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, recognising that this is where girls face severe disadvantage but where their education will have a transformative impact.
But its really the how we support girls through school which is critical in achieving that transformative impact. And the way we work is to support groups of girls to go to school within a community in order to really bring a spotlight on to the particular challenges and obstacles that they face, not just getting into school but in going through school and succeeding at the other end. And in so doing we bring around girls all those in authority over her. Including traditional leaders, including patriarchal authorities who may be against her education.
In order to demonstrate and convince to show what is possible when girls do go to school. And for them to recognise that their support and their resources are needed in order for us to overcome those challenges and enable young women to succeed. One of the outcomes of that approach is that girls’ context changes because we recognise that if we are going to shift girls’ prospects then we do have to transform their context. And we don’t want a situation where girls go through school and then feel they have to flee their communities and go elsewhere, go to town, in order to be able to move on.
We want to create an environment where girls can succeed and become leaders within their communities, and that’s what Fatima and her colleagues in CAMA, which is the alumnae association of young women who have completed school with CAMFED’s support, are about. And there are over 125,000 of them now, growing to 130,000. Last year CAMFED’s programs reached 2.2 million young people. But the CAMA network, these are young women empowered within their communities, themselves supported 164,000 children to go to school. So the multiplier effect that is achieved in those communities when you do have young women coming through as leaders is transformational.
But in supporting girls to go to school, it isn’t just about girls and their families sitting back and waiting for CAMFED to come through with those resources, it is about a partnership to face the toughest of challenges to get girls into and through school. And, families are making significant sacrifices in order to enable girls to go to school and this is where CAMFED comes in as a partner, to help overcome some of the obstacles that seem insurmountable.
At this point I want to pass over to my colleague, Fatima, just to give a bit more insight into that and to share your story, Fatima, of going through school.
Fatima, CAMFED Association Leader, Ghana Thankyou very much… In the name of Allah, the most beneficiary, the most merciful. I greet you all here. I am Fatima from Ghana, a beneficiary of CAMFED. I am from a family of 14 and I happen to be the 13th born of the family and the only educated girl, or the only educated person in the family and I have to take care of all these siblings, these 14 siblings, through the little I’m getting from working as a practising nurse in Ghana.
I started my education at the basic school level, which was free for everyone. But when I graduated to go to the junior high school, there comes a problem because there was not enough money for me to go to school. And I said, “No I have to go to school because I cherish nursing and I want to be a nurse in the future.” So my mother took it upon herself to sell her belongings in order to support me to go to school because we didn’t have money, but my Dad said, “No, it is a waste of time, since she can’t do it by herself and there is not enough enough money to complete after my junior high school,” but my mum said, “No she has to.”
She started selling her belongings and she had enough money to send me to school by then, that was junior high school. So when I started I said, “No, I have to help my mother, because human beings don’t just have to depend on one for survival, no you must take your own challenge into consideration and struggle hard in order to earn a living because time waste will never be gained back.
So, with this I was given money to buy some books, I didn’t use it, I got a copy from my friend, so I used that money to buy chewing sticks. As you can see me carrying sticks. They are sticks back in Ghana, we chew to brush our teeth in the morning and also in the night before going to sleep. So I started this business in order to help my mother so that I will be able to complete my education.
So I started selling this every morning, 4 a.m., I woke up very early, 4 a.m., carried these sticks, you can see me there carrying the sticks, carried these sticks to the market, sell it before going to school. And after school I have to come back, pick these sticks and sell them again, in order to get my basic needs in school and also to get some money to feed on. So I did this for the rest of my junior high school stay, and after selling I had to come home and learn.
And during that time, the economic situation in my family was very bad so we didn’t have any electricity in the house. But, I still had to study and make a great future. So I was studying under this smoky lamp which effected my eyes. As you can see, it’s red, today it’s better. It effected by eyes, the smoke, I used to sit in front of the smoky lamp and study and I was doing this everyday after the hard work and with that I have a problem now, I have to use a spectacle when I read.
And after junior high school, I got admission to the senior high school. And my father thought it was, yes, he saw the impact I was bringing and also the hard work I am doing just to support myself. So he said okay, he has only two animals in his possession, that was a sheep, so he sold one of his sheep for me to further my education. And my mother also sold the rest of her belongings and supported me to go to the senior high school.
When I went I continued doing this work. And every day I had to walk, my house to my school was very far, every day I had to walk three hours from the house to the school. And sometimes I was gotten by rain. When I get to school, I had to remove all my clothes and dry them, sit in the class like that when they are drying and I take them to work, but all this time I said no I have to struggle and make it great in future. So, I was still struggling and selling the sticks after school. After the long walk I would come back home, sell the sticks and also sit under the lamp just to study.
I did this until I completed my senior high school and after completing the senior high school I was promised by a relative to come to the capital of Ghana, that is Accra, to work in order to get enough money to go to my tertiary institution. So I didn’t hesitate to go and when I went, it was hell. I was working like a slave without being paid. I worked in the restaurants, I did her household chores, she was a teacher, I go to help her in the classroom, I did a lot of things without being paid. And the nutrition, my food was so bad so I got a stomach problem, I fell ill land she sent me down north for my parents to take care of me.
So when I got down north my mother couldn’t afford to send me to the hospital. But she got some local help for me to recover. And when I recovered I said, “No, I just don’t have to relax, I have to end this battle successfully.” So I started selling my sticks again and I applied to the orphanage. You can see me holding children, and their uniform, out there, the four of us, that was the orphanage. When I applied, I had the job and I was working there as well. I worked, and after working I was still going and selling my sticks. And with this I was able to gather enough money to apply for nursing, which was my dream.
And when I applied, out of 600 students I was part of the lucky 94 applicants who was picked to continue their education as a nurse. So when I had the admission, my dream of becoming a nurse almost got shattered because of the fees I was supposed to pay, no I couldn’t just afford it. So I was always indoors crying, every day, crying. Crying to the almighty to grant me that opportunity to go to school.
But a friend came by and talked to me about CAMFED and there I applied for support there, and gladly they stood up to help me continue my education which was a great thing they did for me. They rekindled my hope of becoming a nurse in future. So when they got me to school, I said, “No, I have to study very hard, to make CAMFED proud, to make my mum my priority, very proud, my role model.” So I studied very hard, and I had good grades in college, I have a good certificate, and now I work as a professional nurse back in Ghana.
Fatima,CAMFED Association Leader, Ghana With all the struggles, I treat it as a challenge upon myself to go through all this suffering and challenge myself to do great in future. And with the help of CAMFED, yes, I am great. Now, I am great. Frankly speaking, I am great! I serve as a role model to a lot of young women out there and I every soul here and out there to take up their challenges into their own hands. You can’t depend on one or the other for everything. No, you have to challenge yourself, struggle for the best. I struggled, and I’m now benefiting from it. I never knew UK, now I am in UK because of education.
Yes, women out there are discriminated, not because we are weak or stupid, but because we are not empowered. And education makes us empowered. I am empowered now physically, emotionally, psychologically and a lot more because I am educated and CAMFED has helped me through all these things and I am now proud of them. I serve as a role model to a lot of people. Young women can always come to me for advice, I give them advice, I do a lot of advocacies.
I make sure that girls out there take their studies seriously. I could have gone out to look for men to get money in order to go to school but I said no, what the man can do I can equally do it, so I had to struggle to get myself in school. I use my story as case studies to all my fellow girls back in Ghana. I go round and do advocacy, teach them about teenage pregnancy, contraception, how to keep themselves safe from boys. I do a lot of advocacies.
I am running a project now called the ‘Safe Delivery Priority For All.’ I want to make sure that pregnant women get the safest delivery ever, they don’t die out of giving birth and they don’t lose their babies in the process. So I educate them on good nutrition, I do a lot out there, I do advocacies on domestic violence. I’m in the hospital, whenever a lady comes, a student comes, I say to the student now to teach her, to tell her to stay away from boys, and take her status very seriously in order to be like me. I have gone through a lot and I am now proud of myself and proud of CAMFED as well.
And soon CAMA, that is the great network CAMFED alumnae, CAMFED Association will soon rule the whole nation because we want to translate change. I am inspired to see change translate among young women worldwide and sooner or later we will rule the entire world. In Ghana we have about 270 parliamentary where only 90 of them are females. I can equally rule the nation, because a hand that stirs the pot can equally rule the nation. Thank you very much.