“I am now able to read, write, and even count my sheep,” says Eida Mahmoud Ahmed, a young girl living in the province of Luxor.
Eida did not have the chance to go to school. The closest school was about 7 kilometres away so instead she stayed to help her father at home. Born into an illiterate home, she dreamed of going to school and seeking her right to education.
A 2018 laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, the Misr El Kheir Foundation, established a community school in Eida’s village. While education was not considered a priority for Eida’s family, she persuaded her father to allow her to attend the community school, which was walking distance from her home. Eida began her schooling at age 9 and has been studying at the community school for five years now. She intends to go to university and realise her dream of becoming a teacher.
The Head of the Foundation’s Education Sector, Hanan El-Rihany, described the challenging cultural context where girls may represent an economic burden. “Girls and young women suffer from the economic situation. Norms and culture mean girls are seen as a burden to their fathers. They will often be married off at ages 10 or 12 to ease financial burdens by moving to the husband's home.”
“Early marriage brings with it its own problems including health issues for babies born to weak mothers, and lack of access to schooling,” explained Hanan. “Families will not allow a girl to travel on her own 6 or 7 kilometres to school, so instead she stays at home to help her mother or work in the field.”
The benefits of community schooling
To counter this, the Foundation establishes community schools in areas and villages where there is a need. “In a community school, with female teachers drawn from the community itself, families feel safe to send girls there, and this contributes to a drop in early marriage rates,” Hanan said. Community schools are often better tailored to the needs and circumstances of girls and boys like Eida.
"We work in areas where basic services from the government are stretched and put under increasing pressure by population growth,” says Mohamed Abdulrahman the deputy CEO of the Foundation. The Foundation works from a list of out-of-school children from the Ministry of Education and carries out field research. “We go from village to village and talk with each individual family to find out their needs and then try to address them. This personal approach has a tremendously powerful effect.'
Since 2010, 27,747 children (62% girls) aged 4 to 16 have enrolled in 1,002 community schools in Egypt. A total of 7,000 children graduated, 50% of which are girls. The Foundation is planning to further support girls’ education by establishing three preparatory schools and integrating technology into community schools to enable girls and young women to develop digital skills.
Winning the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education enables the Foundation to scale-up its activities and further develop its graduate programme and advocacy work. The Foundation is also introducing extracurricular activities to raise awareness on subjects like early marriage, and financial and health support for families to ensure girls stay in school. “It is incredible,” said Mohamed, “we had thought to start a prize scheme to encourage small NGOs and instead we found that we ourselves won such a prestigious Prize. It is truly an honour beyond our imagination.”
On International Day of the Girl this year, the Misr El Kheir Foundation was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education for its work supporting access to education for girls in some of the poorest villages of Egypt. Funded by the Government of the People’s Republic of China, the Prize awards US$ 50,000 to two laureates annually who have made outstanding contributions to advance girls’ and women’s education.
The Misr El-Kheir Foundation was established in 2007 to advance human development by improving health conditions and combating poverty, illiteracy and unemployment for all. The foundation works across a range of fields, including on education, health, social solidarity, and scientific research and innovation.