On being a girl from Somaliland

When you support students in Somaliland through The School Fund, you help students like Fahima Abdi Ali who attended our partner, Abaarso School

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Fahima Abdi Ali

Coming from Somaliland and being a girl is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I am from Somaliland, a country in East Africa where women have little to no rights. My mother was married at 15 and had her first child when she was 16.  I watched my father basically enslave my mother and then divorce her when I was five years old. After that, my mother was a single mother and had no job. She sacrificed everything for our education because she was determined that we not make the same mistake she did: marrying at age 15.

Receiving an education in my country is very challenging, particularly when you are a girl and when you are poor. I am both but I’ve always loved school and I’ve never let anything get in the way of being able to study. It wasn’t easy. When I went to the local elementary school, I carried a wooden board instead of paper and a piece of coal instead of a pen.

“My own uncles harassed and tried to hurt me; they wanted me to get married instead of going to school. I didn’t listen to them and kept going.”

People made fun of me because my family never visited, but I knew that my mother didn’t come because she was struggling to find a way to support us. My own uncles harassed and tried to hurt me; they wanted me to get married instead of going to school. I didn’t listen to them and kept going.

At 13, I received a scholarship to Abaarso, a prestigious boarding school that had recently opened in a town far away from my home. Abaarso changed my life significantly. The teachers there challenged me and taught me to think critically; I hadn’t experienced anything like it before and it felt like a privilege to be there. I wanted to give back to children who were even less fortunate than I was so I tutored orphans in a local town.

Working at the orphanage was the most difficult job in the school, and I was more than happy to do it. More than anything, I wanted them to become talented children who could help others later in life. Life gave them very limited options and I wanted them to try to create more opportunities for themselves by leading them down the right road.

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When I came to the U.S.—on scholarship—I made a fundraising page and raised about $1,800, which is a year’s tuition at the best school in Somaliland. The school already gave scholarships to as many smart orphans as they could and were willing to take more students if they could pay, so I sent the money to the school and they took one more orphan. I am trying my best to help these children get shelter, education, and the love that they deserve to have.

“I always dreamed of getting an education in a great place, and it has come true!”

Back in Somaliland, I always dreamed of getting an education in a great place, and it has come true!  Few people in my country get the opportunity to come to the U.S. and receive a marvelous education and scholarship. I worked very hard to receive a Davis Scholarship to study in the U.S., and now I sit next to very smart students, and I am very grateful that I am just doing as well as they are doing. I have loved my time and my teachers at both Riverdale and Emma Willard and want to continue to learn as much as I can.

Some day in the future, I want to return to my country and try to fix our corrupt government. I want to give opportunities to all those girls who are imprisoned by their corrupt society. I am not only a feminist but I am also a human rights activist. I love helping the disadvantaged, the poor and the confined, and I want to use my education to make their lives better.

And the winner is…

In the lead-up to back to school season, Disney stars Karan Brar and Paris Berelc launched the #GetSchooled campaign to help fund a classroom of TSF students. We were especially excited about an added incentive to participate: one supporter of #GetSchooled would be chosen at random to fly to Los Angeles for lunch with Paris and Karan!

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Karan Brar and Paris Berelc in TSF grad caps!

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Colin, winner of the #GetSchooled trip to meet Paris and Karan

Well, the winner has been selected and it’s… Colin Seifert!

Please join us in congratulating Colin, one of our newest TSF supporters! We’re excited to hear how lunch goes, and here’s hoping the three of them come out of their get-together with lots of new ideas about school fees, scholarships, and how, together, we can make a difference in this world.

Thank you, Karan and Paris, for making #GetSchooled a reality.

 

Tanzania’s complicated education success story

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Photo by Andrew Moore, used with Creative Commons license (see Flickr: andryn2006).

At The School Fund, we work every day to provide scholarships to promising students in developing countries, and we see the dramatic change education makes in each student’s life. But sometimes, the problem feels overwhelming. UNICEF reports that 65 million adolescents are out of school. These students face many challenges including the cost of school and supplies, the distance to school and pressure to earn a living.

But that doesn’t mean change is impossible. The former president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, recently reflected on progress in Tanzania between 2000 and 2009. During that time primary school enrollment rates doubled and the number of high school students grew from 250,000 to 1.5 million.

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The impressive growth came at a real cost — both politically and economically. During this time 20 percent of Tanzania’s annual budget was spent on education despite great pressure to invest in reliable roads, support the military and provide clean drinking water. Making the choice to invest in education took courage and confidence that a better educated population will pay dividends in future generations. In his article, Kikwete noted, “Tanzania’s experience proves that transforming a country’s education system is possible, even if that country faces severe fiscal constraints. It is not quick or easy, and it often requires difficult trade-offs.”

While Kikwete’s account is inspiring, it only tells part of the story. Enrollment in primary school has nearly reached 100 percent, but less than 65 percent of children complete primary and only 30 percent enroll in high school. Equally troubling is that just half of students who finish primary pass the primary school exit exam. (For more, check out this  UNICEF overview of Tanzania’s education sector.)

For poor students, indirect costs of schooling remain prohibitively expensive. That’s why we put so much energy into fundraising for scholarships that allow students to attend the best schools in their communities. In 2016, TSF will provide 155 scholarships for students in Tanzania. Support for these scholarships arrives through many small donations — in increments as small as five dollars a month. Each small donation is precious to the students who leverage scholarships to build a better life.

In Tanzania, many students are ready to further their education. Unfortunately the funding isn’t all there yet. Until it is, The School Fund will continue to support bright, financially needy students because each year of education matters immeasurably.

 

 

How Solar Lamps Can Transform Homework Time

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Kenya Connect students picking up their solar lights, which will allow them to study at night and provide their families with a light source cleaner than kerosene lamps.

If you were especially studious in high school, you probably spent plenty of nights up late, nose in a book, pounding through heaps of homework. But imagine if you’d only had daylight hours to complete all that work, trying to cram in all that information before the last glint of sunlight fell beyond the horizon.

As noted in this recent study by the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Centre for Economic Performance, more than 1.3 billion people globally do not have access to electricity. Night time study for students without electricity can be a constant race against the sun.

Researchers found that when one group of 7th grade Kenyan students without electricity were given solar-powered lamps to take home, their grades went up. Math grades shot up .88 standard deviations, which is a big improvement in the education world! What’s even more astounding is that when access to lamps was given to 10% of students, grades for the other students went up .22 standard deviations! It seems students with the lamps were prone to share light with classmates.

Our students in Wamunyu are starting to experience the freedom to study granted by having a solar lamp at home. Thanks to a new program through Kenya Connect, students’ families are going to be able to rent-to-own these lamps for about $1 per month until they pay off the $8.00 cost for small lamps (or $36.00 for medium lamps that also include capacity for charging a mobile phone).

Our partners at Kenya Connect are working right now on getting these lamps into the hands of TSF scholarship recipients.

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The Kenya Connect team demonstrating for teachers how the solar lamps work.

Consider just how much you learned during all your nights “burning the midnight oil.” Then consider that these students will no longer be faced with a choice to put down their studies or literally burn costly lighting fuels like kerosene that their families can hardly afford. (It’s worth noting that in the Centre for Economic Performance study, families of students with solar lamps also saw a reduction in fuel expenditures of between 66 cents and $1 per week!)

This program has so much promise, and a potential to make years of impact. Kenya Connect’s solar lamps have a two-year warranty and batteries that should last five years. We’re excited to see in coming years how much difference having access to study light will make for our students.

You can meet our Kenya Connect students on TSF’s website and follow Kenya Connect on Facebook for updates on the program.

From Somaliland to Universities Abroad

The School Fund’s staff, Executive Director Elizabeth Texeira and Director of Programs Michael Childress, are on a three week trip to East Africa to meet seven of our field partners in the region. They will be writing short posts about their experience, so check back for an update soon!

(An update from Michael, with more about our partner Abaarso in Somaliland.) 

In a previous post I briefly described the work of Abaarso School.  Abaarso is currently the only school in Somaliland that has been able to admit students to universities outside of the country. I recently spent a week at Abaarso to learn more about the local education sector and why this school has been so successful.

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During my visit I spoke with the former Director General of Education, Mohamed Hassan whose own children attend Abaarso. He explained some of the challenges facing the education sector in Somaliland to me. These include a significant lack of school buildings and inadequate infrastructure at existing schools, insufficient learning materials and a growing but unregulated private sector. Mr. Hassan’s greatest concern, however, was the lack of trained teachers in the country.

These concerns are borne out in a recent report written by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF.  The report finds that only 38% of primary school teachers have the minimum required teaching qualifications. It also indicates that more than 60% of primary schools and 40% of high schools lack clean drinking water.  These barriers help to explain why less than half of all primary school aged students—and less than a quarter of high school aged students—are enrolled in school today.

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Students entering Abaarso are among the brightest in the country. In 2016, over 1,000 students took the entrance exam for just 48 available places. In addition to being bright, teachers explain that admitted students are highly motivated. Despite their enthusiasm and high performance (relative to their peers in Somaliland) newly admitted students typically have a fourth grade mathematics level and only rudimentary English skills.

To prepare students for university, Abaarso aims to increase learning by 2 to 2.5 levels per year. The school does this by keeping the student-teacher ratio low (about 13:1), encouraging student-centered learning and providing additional learning opportunities outside of class. One of the most striking features of the school is the level of access that students have to teachers. During my visit it was common to see teachers available to students until 9 o’clock in the evening.

Abaarso also involves students and parents in the creation of the school culture and integration into the local community.  Students help set classroom norms, provide feedback to administrators about school policies and assist with the day-to-day operation of the school. The board and parent committee help the school negotiate local cultural norms and advocate for the school with local stakeholders.

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The annual tuition at Abaarso is $1,800 per student. About one-third of the students receive need-based scholarships. Teachers report that the students receiving scholarships  perform better than those paying full tuition.  In the 2015/2016 school year, The School Fund help provide scholarships to 23 students at Abaarso.

 

You can learn more about these students and help fund a scholarship for the next school year at The School Fund.

 

How a girls’ school in Kibera is creating a hub for change

Partner Spotlight: How a Shining Hope was Born in Two Kenyan Slums

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On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, in the country’s two largest slums, Kibera and Mathare, deep poverty runs rampant. Gang and sexual violence are common. Clean, safe water is in short supply.

And in these two slums, our new partner Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO) has established schools for girls at the hub of other services, including: daily nourishment, healthcare, psychosocial support, after school programs, toilets and clean water, plus savings and loan groups. By putting educating girls at the heart of all it does, SHOFCO is a safe space that teaches families to value girls’ education and women’s empowerment.

Last year, over 72,000 parents were served through SHOFCO programs, and since 2012, its female members saw four-times the income growth of the community at large. SHOFCO helps create stability at home, while its schools—populated by students who suffer some of the greatest poverty in Kenya—consistently rank within the top three in the nation!

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Please join us in welcoming our new partner SHOFCO,
and meet a few of our new students!

 


TSF Staff Abroad

TSF’s executive director Liz Texeira and director of programs Michael Childress have headed to Kenya, Somaliland and Mozambique to visit our partners and students. For highlights from their trip, please subscribe to our blog or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! #tsffieldtrip
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It’s Almost MATCH DAY!

Mark your calendars! Wednesday, June 22 is TSF’s Match Day, that one magical day each year when for 24 hours we are able to double all online contributions to our students!


Supporter Spotlight: TSF’s Teen Board

The School Fund is lucky to be supported by a circle of enthusiastic supporters, but not many can rival our Teen Board, a group of Palo Alto teens who churn out a steady stream local events that get our cause out to our community—and make giving fun. Two weeks ago, our Teen Board planned a special TSF day with Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria and it was a huge success! Thanks Teen Board and all our supporters who came out for a slice!

Like the Teen Board, many of our supporters have started planning personal fundraisers! Let us know what you, your student group or favorite kid are doing to support our students, so that we can feature those efforts here!

Onward to Mozambique

The School Fund’s staff, Executive Director Elizabeth Texeira and Director of Programs Michael Childress, are on a three week trip to East Africa to meet seven of our field partners in the region. They will be writing short posts about their experience, so check back for an update soon!

(An update from Liz, who visited our partner ASEM in Mozambique)

TSF’s partner in Mozambique, ASEM, was started in 1991 by Barbara Hoffman to support vulnerable children in Mozambique after almost two decades of civil war. One of the only African countries not under British rule, (it was formerly a Portuguese colony and today the national language is Portuguese), Mozambique has struggled to recover and the country ranks among the lowest in GDP per capita, human development, measures of inequality, and average life expectancy. While there are many challenges Mozambique has also been able to maintain a relatively stable democratic government and has made primary education free and compulsory for all students.


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ASEM, our partner works to provide psycho-social support, food, transportation, uniforms, and school fees to students attending public school, and also operates a primary and secondary school funded in part by the Ministry of Education. The School Fund’s 17 ASEM students, selected based on need and performance, are located in two large communities, Beira and Vilankulos.

Beira is beautiful and hot, and children are learning! Helena, a Grade 8 student supported by TSF was put into an ASEM school by her father right before he passed away, and she says that she cannot imagine going to school anywhere else.

 

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Helena, a TSF scholarship recipient at ASEM in Mozambique. 


Helena is going to be an accountant so she can support her family. Consider supporting Helena and our other students from Mozambique
here.

TSF in Somaliland

The School Fund’s staff, Executive Director Elizabeth Texeira and Director of Programs Michael Childress, are on a three week trip to East Africa to meet seven of our field partners in the region. They will be writing short posts about their experience, so check back for an update soon!

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(An update from Michael, who is visiting our partner Abaarso in Somaliland)

Somaliland is a semi-autonomous region of Somalia that declared independence in 1991. It has a separate government, currency and military, but is not recognized as an independent nation by the international community.

After the civil war in the 1990s, much of the education infrastructure in Somaliland collapsed. Today there is little reliable information on the performance of schools in Somaliland. However, anecdotal reports suggest that many children are out of school and those who are in school are learning very little.

In contrast to this rather bleak picture, there has been a growing stream of graduates from a small private high school on the outskirts of Hargeisa who are being admitted to some the world’s elite universities.  Within the walled compound at Abaarso School, a group of international teachers and Somali staff teach and live alongside about 200 students.

Although few of the teachers have formal training, their dedication and the students drive to learn are producing some extraordinary results, including sending students to Harvard and MIT.

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In the 2015/2016 school year, The School Fund provided scholarships for 23 students to attend Abaarso School.  Mustafa was one of these students.

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Mustafa, TSF scholarship recipient!

Mustafa is currently finishing his final exams at Abaarso.  In July he leaves Somaliland for the first time to attend University of Rochester, where he hopes to become a mathematician.  He says that going to school allowed him the opportunity to see the world in a different way, and to question and have different opinions.

TSF in Kenya – Day 2, meeting Mary Brenda

The School Fund’s staff, Executive Director Elizabeth Texeira and Director of Programs Michael Childress, are on a three week trip to East Africa to meet seven of our field partners in the region. They will be writing short posts about their experience, so check back for an update soon!

Tuesday

(A note from Michael)

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Determining who gets to go to high school, and which school they can attend, is a high stakes game in Kenya.  In 8th grade, students take a national exam called the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education.  The exam has a total of 500 possible points.  Students earning less than 200 points are not eligible for high school while students with 350 points or more are admitted to elite national schools.  

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Mary Brenda, a SHOFCO student currently crowdfunding a scholarship TSF’s website.

In 2016, more than 200,000 students were not admitted to high schools because they scored less than 200 points. Even when students pass the KCPE, many cannot afford to attend secondary school because of school fees, which typically range from $500 to $700 per year.

The School Fund works with Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) to provide scholarships to students living in the Kibera slum who have scored at least 300 points (in the top 25% nationally) on the KCPE.

Today we had the chance to speak with Mary Brenda who is attending a good quality secondary school where she currently has a B+ average.  When she graduates she hope to enroll in university and become an accountant. Meeting her, hearing about her plans and knowing how hard she’s working in school, I can’t help but be excited about her future.

TSF in Nairobi – A Visit to Kibera

The School Fund’s staff, Executive Director Elizabeth Texeira and Director of Programs Michael Childress, are on a three week trip to East Africa to meet seven of our field partners in the region. They will be writing short posts about their experience, so check back for an update soon!

Monday

(A note from Liz)

The School Fund staff has hit the ground running! And at altitude! We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya yesterday morning after about 27 hours of travel from SFO and were VERY excited to see 1) that the intense rains of the past few weeks were no longer falling, and 2) the sights of Nairobi—Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Nairobi National Park—as we valiantly fought jetlag in anticipation of starting work today.

We were up bright and early to prepare our materials for our first (and newest) partner of the trip, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). SHOFCO operates a program in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, with over 1 million people living in an area consisting of 1.3 square miles. As SHOFCO says,

“Kenya’s government, which owns the land upon which Kibera stands, does not formally recognize the settlement, regarding its residents as squatters. Thus, the people of Kibera’s 13 villages are denied basic social services—education, healthcare and sanitation, clean water, electricity, roads—and the basic human dignity that accompanies them.” Learn more on their site here

 

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View of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya

SHOFCO, developed with a mission to turn urban poverty into urban promise has four main pillars: education, with their wildly covered Kibera School for Girls (check out this video for a day in the life and some serious inspiration); health, they run a community clinic that serves all of Kibera; community empowerment, with savings and micro- loan clubs and vocational training; and water and sanitation/hygiene programs, providing low cost, clean water and eco-friendly latrines to a community that does not have any other access to these services.

Today was spent buzzing around the community meeting program staff, volunteers, members of the student selection committee, a group of proud parents, and even a Mr. and Mrs. SHOFCO—young people selected by the community to be role models who receive an internship working with the organization for the year.

Over the din of construction, the singing of an elementary school classroom, and the sounds and smells of the communal kitchen, the parents described the situation in Kenya, how the school fee structure changes every year, and they never know if they will be able to find the money to keep their sons and daughters in school. In a place like Kibera, sending their children away to boarding school is often the best option. Roger, one of the parents in our group whose daughter is now at the top-ranked national high school in Kenya said, “I can see the sun through my window. Without this scholarship I could never have managed her school. For the first time there will be a graduate in my house.”  

 

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Roger, whose daughter is in school, thanks to a scholarship!

 

And that folks, is what it’s all about.

The School Fund is proud to partner with SHOFCO to send 50 of their students to secondary school this year. We are honored to be a part of this amazing organization changing lives every day. YOU can be a part of this magic too—meet some of our amazing SHOFCO students here.