Parents of school-aged children everywhere know how hard it can be to get kids to school each day. Time seems to speed up as the school bell approaches, and the morning becomes a whirlwind of breakfast dishes, half-filled lunchboxes and missing school hats.
The morning rush is stressful, but for communities around the world that are facing poverty, the question of “how hard is it to get a kid to school?” is a very different one – and much more loaded. It’s not about getting the family out the door on time each day; it’s about how an entire future will play out. It’s about trying to overcome the many barriers that stand in the way of every person’s right to an education.
Poverty, conflict and a lack of resources and infrastructure can all stand in the way of children accessing an education. For girls, in particular, education is constantly under threat from a range of factors, including the lure of early marriage to ease a family’s economic pressure and how different cultures perceive women’s roles.
For Mary from South Sudan, all these challenges meant that getting to school looked pretty hard when she was a young girl. In her community, she explains, girls were “trained culturally to be good housewives, to be married off to other families.”
Tearfund’s partner ACROSS has faithfully worked with communities in South Sudan for decades to help make a way out of poverty. Its work promoting education, training, and supporting teachers has made a pathway for children, especially girls, to pursue learning with vision and confidence. Educated women typically have fewer children and can better care for themselves, and when women thrive, the whole community benefits.
Mary is so grateful that her parents did end up sending her to school. “They became aware of the importance of education from the community members who are educated … and advocacy from the government and NGOs like ACROSS, which trained and mobilised our community to send all children to schools, including girls like me. That is why I am in school today,” she says.
Now a teenager, Mary has been trained by ACROSS to support other girls to stay at school. “This year, we have brought back four girls who had dropped out and 20 newly enrolled girls to the school as the result of the skills and knowledge we gained from the training. We have also helped two girls from our school who were about to be married off before finishing their studies. Apart from encouraging girls to complete their schooling, we also plant trees, compose educational songs and many other games that promote learning and girls’ education.”
Breaking the poverty cycle
In the remote, rural part of Pakistan where the five young women pictured above come from, there used to be no primary school, and parents didn’t send their children – especially girls – to school. Things changed when Tearfund’s local Christian partner, the Diocese of Hyderabad, set up a primary school in the village in 2007. The women all attended the school and graduated. They went on to government secondary schools, and all are now studying at university.
They’re pretty clear about what would have happened if Tearfund’s partner had not helped to establish a primary school in their village: “We would have married early and remained illiterate, like our mothers,” they said.
While missing out on an education quickly becomes a cycle – people whose families are poor miss out, and in turn, they have fewer opportunities to earn an income later in life – the good news is that breaking that cycle is incredibly effective in changing the course of a person’s life. Achieving a basic education is a key step toward fullness of life, unlocking a world of other opportunities.
At Tearfund, we believe that a more just and compassionate world is possible – where a way for hope can cut through the cycle of poverty and unlock these new opportunities. Even where poverty and injustice are at their most extreme, our hope is in a God who makes “a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).
We believe every child has God-given talents that can flourish with access to education. For Mary and others in her community, education has been transformative.
“The training and formation by ACROSS has really equipped us with skills and knowledge that enable us to have the courage to complete primary school and go for further studies for our bright future,” she says.
How hard is it to get a kid to school around the world? Test your knowledge with our quiz!
Emma Halgren is Content Lead at Tearfund Australia.