When you sponsor a girl in the S H E program you’re not only providing a school uniform, a full-tuition scholarship, school supplies, menstrual supplies and exam fees, but you’re also providing the opportunity for her to be part of our after school program.
It’s less tangible, so it’s difficult to show all of the value this after school program provides, but we’ve worked so hard to create a program that is a safe space for every student to be her vulnerable self, is an encouraging atmosphere to talk about goals for the future and provides the additional pieces that make a solid, meaningful foundation for an empowered life in Togo.
It feels like our program is growing and changing all the time, and this is because our Program Directors spend four hours per week with our students and get to know each of their needs.
While I was in Togo this July, it became clear to me that the value of S H E is much more than the direct offerings we provide. Yes, our incredible team in Togo plans meetings, activities and speeches from inspiring people in the community, but it is the team themselves who generate the most value for our students.
It’s not uncommon to have 25 girls from the S H E program come through the office each day just to hang out. Or to see our meetings be dismissed at 5:30 pm only to have students still in the office until 7:00 pm. And knowing that vulnerabilities and personal stories are rarely discussed in Togo, I’m constantly surprised by how much our directors know about our students.
But it’s because our team has created an environment where girls are free to be their whole selves, no subject is off-limits and girls know they are not alone in their journey. Our team provides advice, shares thoughts and ideas, and hears every girl who comes through our doors (many of whom are not yet part of the S H E program.) They go so far beyond their job descriptions to care for our students. Just as an example, I went to visit one of our students in the hospital at 10:00 pm when she had Malaria, only to find that Francoise, our HR Director had already been there to pay for her medical care out of her own pocket because the student’s family could not afford it.
I think that’s what makes S H E different. It’s what makes S H E matter. Our team shows up as their whole selves every day. They lead with their hearts and offer so much of themselves for our students. And it’s making a tremendous (often immeasurable) impact.
We started a saying in our office this summer. Many people think of startup business-women as “trailblazers” which I totally loved to say. But I’m a hyper-visual person, so I started thinking about the image of a trailblazer. I see someone who forges a trail through unchartered territory. Pretty rad, but what’s left behind? A narrow foot trail just wide enough for one person.
I didn’t think that represented the culture of the women I witness at S H E. So I wanted us to shift our thinking from blazing a narrow trail through an uncharted forest to setting an expansive wake on a huge lake. Each one of us, in the US and Togo, comes to work each day to set a wake that opens more and more opportunities for others behind us. And to go totally overboard with this analogy, the ripple effects are beyond measure
So when you’re investing in S H E or sponsoring one of our students, you’re not only helping to widen the wake of our program, you’re setting one of your own.