Educating Ethiopia’s future female leaders

Emnet Teshome, 12, grew up in a troubled home in rural Ethiopia, an area with limited access to resources and education for girls. In spite of the physical and verbal abuse Emnet faced at home, and even with the lack of stability and support, she held on to her dream of becoming an advocate for women.

At first, Emnet’s family did not believe in the value of education. When Emnet was eight years old, she went to school for almost a year before being forced to drop out because her father couldn’t get along with the school director. “I loved going to school but my father made me quit. I got a paid job with a family friend, cleaning their home and taking care of their children for three years,” she says.

Then, in 2019, her fortunes changed when project officers and community facilitators began conducting home visits in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), to try to convince families to enrol their daughters in school.

Seizing an opportunity for education

The project is called CHANGE - Improving Access to Education in Ethiopia for Most Marginalized Girlst; and it is led by People in Need (PIN) implemented with partners from Alliance2015, Concern Worldwide, Welthungerhilfe, Helvetas, and the Italian Association for Aid to Children (CIAI). 

It is part of the The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) program that was launched by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in 2012 as a 12-year commitment to reach the most marginalised girls in the world and it is the largest global fund dedicated to girls’ education. CHANGE project is supporting the girls by establishing alternative, basic  and integrated, functional adult education. Funded by UK aid from the UK government, the programme is implemented across four regions of Ethiopia: Amhara, Afar, Oromia and the SNNPR.

When Emnet heard about the opportunity to attend school through the programme, she left her job to register. “Even though I was earning money at the time, I was willing to leave it for the opportunity to learn,” she says. At first, Emnet’s father was hesitant to let her enrol and thereby lose the income she had been earning, but the project team was able to convince him of the benefits of educating his daughter.

Overcoming obstacles to stay in school

Emnet soon started learning and, thanks to the CHANGE project, she received materials such as textbooks, exercise books, pens, pencils, and erasers, which many children from low-income families are not able to afford.  Apart from basic subjects such as language, math, and science, she is also receiving instruction in life skills and health, topics that are rarely taught in rural Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, just a month into the programme, Emnet’s father tore up her exercise books as a result of a dispute with her mother. Emnet quickly reported this to her teachers, who travelled to her home in an attempt to resolve the situation. Bethlehem, one of the project officers, says: “At first, her father was upset, but after some convincing, he apologised and even insisted on replacing the books himself.”

“I didn’t want to lose this opportunity, that’s why I reported the incident to my teachers, even if it made my father angrier,” says Emnet. The project team has been following up on Emnet’s progress, and her situation has stabilised. “My father has accepted it now; he doesn’t discourage me anymore,” she says. Emnet adds: “I really enjoy school and love my teachers. My mother is very supportive, too; she helps me study at home. I want to help women one day, and to be able to comfort my mom when she cries.”

The CHANGE project is expected to reach 31,000 out-of-school girls between the ages of 10 and 19 nationwide, with 8,500 of them in SNNPR. Currently, the project is working with its first learning cohort of 5,500 girls in the four regions, 2,200 of them in SNNPR.

Author: Melikte Tadesse, PIN Ethiopia Communication Officer