Angeline Murimirwa, CAMFED Executive Director for Africa My name is Angeline Murimirwa. I was one of the first girls to be supported through school by CAMFED, and I’m now CAMFED’s Executive Director in Africa. My personal experience of the poverty related barriers to education, barriers that would have prevented me from going to secondary school is the experience of millions of girls. And it is what drives me. Along with my peers.
We are now a network of young women leaders, united by our shared experience of poverty and exclusion. We understand from intimate experience how poverty can undermine a family’s efforts to do the best for their children. We also know what it takes to ensure a girl in a situation of extreme vulnerability has the support she needs to go to school to feel secure and to learn.
We have come together in the CAMFED Association as a network through which we can pull our resources and our expertize to support the younger generation of girls to go to school. Our network is now more than 157,000 strong and is growing year on year as more girls complete school and join.
Fiona Mavhinga, Executive Advisor, CAMFED Association Like Angie, I was one of the founding members of the CAMFED Association in Zimbabwe. I worked alongside Angie and Lucy to set the foundations in place for it to become a network to represent girls and young women and bring them center stage.
I always remember our first meeting. We came from rural areas across the country and we embraced our shared identity as young women who had beaten the odds. We realized the power we had in joining together – the power to make change in our own lives and in the lives of others. The Learner Guide program is where we bring this all together.
The Learner Guide is a young woman school graduate who signs up to a two-year commitment to return to her local school. She receives training to deliver a self-development and wellbeing curriculum and runs regular sessions with students. In the process, she identifies girls who are vulnerable, and she joins forces with her community and with school authorities to ensure they get the right support. In this way, through our Learner Guide program, we’re helping to ensure the education system works for marginalized girls.
Lydia Wilbard, National Director, CAMFED Tanzania So we designed this program, the Learner Guide program, to be able to complement the efforts that the government of Tanzania is doing in addressing the issue of lending, quality education and inclusive education, and also to address the issue of transitioning. So transitioning from one class to another, for girls and boys to be able to finish school, but also transitioning back into the community, into safer life.
The young women are trained, the CAMA (CAMFED Association) members are trained and come back to their schools to be able to deliver the life skills curriculum, a curriculum that is meant to impact the skills within the students in the school, to be able to gain confidence, to increase their self-awareness, to be able to face the challenges because it is focusing on well-being as an individual, but also exploring the power that these children have to be able to face the challenges that are in their communities.
Dotto, Learner Guide, Morogoro District In my experience as a Learner Guide I have developed the ability to stand and talk in front of people. It has kept the students close to me, when they have challenges they come to me to tell me.
Diris Martin, Former Learner Guide Learner Guides they feel a huge gap that we see in our secondary education. Teachers they are busy preparing their lesson plan, busy teaching, busy preparing examinations, marking schemes. But the students need support apart from that. They need mental support, they need counseling, emotional support, so the Learner Guides are the ones who fill that gap.
Mwanaisha Ally Joka, Secondary School Teacher As a result of the Learner Guides, we have seen an increase of self-awareness among students. Also, through the things they are taught, they have developed a sense of unity. Even when they see their fellow students’ imperfections, they encourage them. If every school in Tanzania had a Learner Guide [there would be many benefits.] First of all, they are young people that are easily accessible to young people. Students would gain self-confidence, and as a result would do well in the classroom.
Diris Martin, Former Learner Guide Learner Guides take a lot of efforts to return excluded students to the classroom because they there are activities they are doing. Asking their fellow, “Where is your fellow student?” So the students in the class, you see, they say, “Oh, she’s maybe selling some fishes with her mother.” So from the class, the Learner Guide got enough information and attend teachers. So when they meet with the teachers it is where they start a plan on how to make a student come back.
Dotto, Learner Guide, Morogoro District The My Better World program was developed with the aim of increasing students’ school performance, reducing absenteeism, and reducing pregnancy and child marriage.
Khadija, Secondary Student, Morogoro District I see Dotto as my guardian because she has helped me with things I missed in my community. Dotto has helped me with money to eat, bought socks, helped me get a uniform and helped me feel as good as other students. Dotto is a role model in the community because she helps me with so many things I was lacking in school. Dotto is someone I can talk to about my personal problems outside of the classroom.
Lydia Wilbard, National Director, CAMFED Tanzania And so if we have this Learner Guide program and they learn these soft skills that are within the My Better World program, we are creating youth that are very responsible, who are very respecting, who are loving each other, they are ready to support each other instead of competing among themselves.
And ultimately, we have people who can offer them self, who can think and have goals and we will see ultimately, they are not only supporting themselves, but they are also able to step up even when they do not pass completely to go to high school or to have a degree. But they have the skills that can help them to be able to face life.
Angeline Murimirwa, CAMFED Executive Director for Africa Through our Learner Guide program, our goal is to ensure 5 million girls in five countries of sub-Saharan Africa get the support they need to be in school, to thrive and to succeed. We will achieve this by training and 100,000 Learner Guides to be operating in schools. With each Learner Guide supporting an average of 50 marginalized girls.
This might sound too ambitious, but believe me, it’s not. The activism in our network is irrepressible. Our members will stop at nothing to dismantle the barriers girls face. And what of the Learner Guide themselves? Well, through the opportunities and status that a Learner Guide acquires through her role, including the formal qualifications she receives, many are transitioning into formal employment or further education. Indeed, a number of Learner Guides are going on to become trained teachers. Ultimately, they are stepping forward as a new generation of leaders in education.
Lucy Lake, Chief Executive Officer, CAMFED Angie, Fiona and I have worked together over the past few decades to build the CAMFED Association and right from the early days, partnerships have been key to our success, including partnerships with traditional leaders. And partnerships have been at the core of our Learner Guide program.
Our partnerships with school communities provide the local support system for Learner Guides, and our partnerships with ministries mean that Learner Guide activities are fully integrated in schools, and our partnerships with the private sector help create the wellbeing curriculum that Learner Guide deliver and the accredited qualification that they can achieve.
And there’s one common factor in all these partnerships, which I believe has been fundamental to our success. And it’s that Learner Guides are recognized and respected by all partners as the experts, as young women who once themselves experienced exclusion, and to understand what it takes to ensure the most vulnerable children have the support they need to be in school and learn.
This recognition and positioning of young women’s expertize has had a profound effect, which was brought to life by one Learner Guide who said “It means we’ve gone from being nobody’s to becoming somebodies in our communities.” And as a network, those somebodies are a powerful force.
This to me is where social change meets systems change. This is how we can achieve a shift in the education system to not just accommodate the needs of marginalized girls, but to serve marginalized children. And the importance of this has been underlined by our research colleagues at the Real Center at Cambridge University. Using CAMFED’s data, they’ve shown that inclusive education systems will function for everyone if they function for the most marginalized girls.
And looking ahead, I think we have a great opportunity to consider how our Learner Guide model could be taken beyond our current countries of operation and explore to what extent it’s a model with universal relevance. To this end, the Yidan Prize and the Yidan Community open up a whole new realm of possibility as we come together in pursuit of our common goal to create a better world through education.