The millions of uneducated children in Africa, particularly girls, represent a huge untapped resource for global change, although mothers will tell you that their greatest desire is to provide education for their daughters. In Ghana, only 59% of the total population (over 15 yrs) is literate. The story in Kenya is a bit better — 80% of women over 15 are literate, but that term applies to only the most basic of education.
The primary reason for these statistics is that families depend greatly on their girls to help run the house and their mothers’ businesses. They generally fetch water (sometimes a several-hour trip) before and after school, take care of younger siblings, and help sell products on the street. If a girl does manage to stay in school through junior secondary school (9th grade), she often has no help preparing for senior secondary school entrance exams and applications. Scholarships for tuition, books and uniforms are the starting point for helping these girls. The Village Net also provides tutors when needed, and has emergency stipends for families facing adversity that would keep their daughters home.
Because many of the village women are illiterate and innumerate, The Village Net offers literacy classes. TVN’s definition of literacy is broad.. It not only encompasses language, but financial, health and civic literacy as well. The first goal may be to help borrowers sign their names (about 75% of the applications are now signed with a thumbprint) and do the basic arithmetic that will allow them to track expenses and revenues. Financial literacy, including the concepts of saving and budgeting, is critical. Health literacy will incorporate any programs related to health initiatives and implementing healthy lifestyles. For example, malaria nets may be misused or not used at all if recipients are not educated about their necessity. Civic literacy is often overlooked, but no less important. It is a mandate of The Village Net that borrowers learn to utilize the resources at hand to effect change. That includes the very basic responsibility of understanding the local process for change and voting.
One difficulty with education is that the women (and often girls) feel that they have little time for classes. The Village Net will incorporate education with other activities, such as loan repayment days or association meetings, to take advantage of time commitments the women have already made and are keeping. TVN respects the life priorities set by the borrowers, and will work within their constraints. While educational initiatives may be made prerequisite for borrowing, they will be offered in a way that does not complicate the women’s desire to learn. The Village Net is also working to implement a mentorship program utilizing accomplished women from nearby Accra to exemplify the many life paths that may be taken by the girls.