Oct9FriEducation is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. October 9, 2020 By Kathy Nguyen
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(Above) Lt-Col Brenda Murray, director of world missions, with students from The Salvation Army John Gowans Junior and Senior High School in Liberia
Three years ago, 14-year-old Naomie could be found on the streets of Salala, a small town in Liberia, selling knick-knacks to earn money.
“You will not go to school,” her stepmother said. “You’ll be earning money.”
Her mother died five years earlier, and when her father remarried, Naomie’s education was halted. While her father was away for work, her stepmother forbade her to go to school, forcing her to make some income for the household through daily street vending.
One day, a friend asked, “Have you ever heard of the Salvation Army John Gowans school?”
Naomie visited the campus and told the staff her story, and that she wanted to go back to school.
The Girl Child
Around the world, 64 million girls are being forced to work—many of them entering the workforce by the age of nine. While there is a direct and proven correlation between education and the reduction of poverty, millions of girls aren’t receiving an education. Instead, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 and 2.5 million girls under 16 give birth in developing countries every year.
For these reasons, the United Nations declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl Child—a day to celebrate girls everywhere, while acknowledging the challenges they face every day.
The Salvation Army recognizes the severe gender gaps around the world, which is why education for girls is a top priority in overseas projects—because of this, we have seen girls from all walks of life break barriers and take charge of their futures.
In a small informal settlement in Gopalganj, Bangladesh, a girl named Martha grew up in a desperately impoverished household. Her father was a daily labourer and couldn’t afford for her to attend school. Like many families in this area, they were near destitute and often struggled to have food on the table. For many children living in such poverty, they are expected to enter the workforce to help sustain the family.
At the age of nine, Martha was able to escape this common trajectory through The Salvation Army’s Brighter Futures Children’s Sponsorship Program. This program allowed her to attend the Integrated Children’s Centre, a boarding school for orphaned and vulnerable girls and visually impaired boys.
Through sponsorship, her school fees were paid and she received free accommodation, regular, nutritious meals and a quality education.
Today, Martha holds a master’s degree in social sciences and works for an NGO to empower underprivileged and physically disabled children.
“I am so grateful to The Salvation Army,” she says. “They have always stood by my side.”
In a village in Kenya, a little girl named Elizabeth was drawing near her time for marriage. Kenya has the 20th-highest number of child brides in the world—a practice sustained by tradition, gender inequality and poverty. Her father didn’t want Elizabeth to be married at such a young age, but the family was under intense financial pressure. For many families in the developing world, child marriage is seen as the only option to ease financial burdens.
Despite his misgivings, marriage seemed like the only option at the time—until he found a local Salvation Army school. He told their story and Elizabeth became a recipient of sponsorship. With school fees paid for, she didn’t have to become a bride. Instead, she became a student.
Today, Elizabeth is the principal for The Salvation Army Likoni School for the Blind, empowering children with albinism and visual impairments.
Breaking the Cycle
For decades, The Salvation Army has helped to uplift girls and amplify their voices. For many girls and successful women around the world, the Army has played an integral part in their journey. Education has given them the chance to break the cycle of poverty. With just a book and a pen, many of these girls grow up to empower others.
Three years ago, Naomie was selling knick-knacks on the streets. Today, she is 17 years old and about to embark on her senior year of high school. Her story is only just beginning, but the future looks bright.
Kathy Nguyen is the resource media co-ordinator in the world missions department.