After finishing up our second round of village visits and tuition payments, Fawzi wrote this blog about a very powerful experience at one of our partner communities. Here are her words.
This past week, we've been revisiting all of our villages to pay the school fees for our students. Getting our students fully enrolled is a long process that's made much more difficult by the rainy season. Because we serve villages that are very remote, they're already difficult to access. When the rain comes, the roads become impossible to navigate. That's why we were just now returning to one of our partner villages, Todomé. Our motorbikes couldn't even get us down the road.
As you know by now, I've been doing our village visits for some time, and so of course I knew the importance of our work. But today really moved me, and I thought it was important for me to share why.
When you walk into Todomé, you can feel the intensity of the need. Yes, it's true that there is great need and I will say, poverty, in all of the communities we serve, but in Todomé, you can feel that it has amplified all of the barriers our girls face.
When I first entered the school grounds, I ran into this student, whose name we are choosing not to share in order to protect her privacy.
You know, I felt kind of uncomfortable taking this first photo because we never want to exploit the circumstances of our students. But I also recognize that part of our job at S H E is to raise awareness about the very real challenges girls in Togo are experiencing. Especially in the villages. It's one thing for us to tell you about the needs of our students, and it's a totally different thing for you to see and feel it with us.
Obviously, you can see the state of her uniform, but what you could only feel was the heaviness of her spirit. She's from a farming community, so coming to school is frankly speaking, the second priority for her family. It's sadly very common for girls her age to be removed from school completely to go work on the farm, and it's almost guaranteed that she will miss school often because she's needed on the farm.
Unfortunately, because a large percentage of students in villages come from farming families, it is sometimes the reason that people discourage us from working in the remote villages. In fact, we heard one headmaster say, "why give her the uniform if she's only going to wear it to the farm?"
We are not so naïve to think that it will be just as easy to work in remote villages, no. Of course it is and will be more difficult. But hopefully the next photo shows you why we believe that the added challenges make our focus on rural villages that much more important.
This is the same student right after she received her new uniform and school kit from S H E. If it's difficult for you to believe this is the same girl on the same day, I understand. It was difficult for me to believe that when I was looking at the pictures from today too. But you could just feel how much lighter her presence was, and I think I would describe that as dignity.
And please understand, we know our job is not complete and that her life is not changed by this one school kit. But this represents a very big step on her journey to empowerment. And I am more committed than ever to walk that journey with her.
And to the person who said "why give her a uniform if she's only going to wear it to the farm?" I say, even if that were true and she never returned to school, it is worth it. For her to carry this dignity to the farm with her is special and it is important.
And we've seen that through continued engagement with our students and partner communities, the education of girls begins to rank higher and higher on the list of priorities for parents. And eventually, she'll be wearing that uniform to school every day.
That's why we're not only dedicated to serving rural girls, we're building lasting partnerships that will eventually extend far beyond the services we provide for our girls. We hope these partnerships will start to transform community attitudes towards the potential of girls in society. Because that is where the real, sustainable change happens.