I realize now there were many things I took for granted growing up as a girl in the United States – equal access to education and the support to finish school perhaps being the most important ones. The more I’ve travelled and been fortunate to see and live in different parts of the world, the more I’ve come to understand that the education I took for granted as a girl where I came from, is in fact a privilege in so many parts of our world. Among those places is Tanzania, where it is estimated that only 5% of girls finish secondary school.
Research repeatedly shows that one of the most effective means to development in a country is through investment in girls’ education. Societies whose girls are more educated tend to see girls getting married later, and lower birthrates and infant mortality rates. Additionally, as educated girls become mothers, they are more likely to send their own children to school. But how to break the broken cycle in places like Tanzania and create a new one? It turns out one of the best ways to invest in girls is to first invest in their mothers.
An investment in women’s education.
This is what the Planeterra Foundation aims to do through one of its new programs in Moshi, Tanzania. By providing adult education to a group of mothers and supporting their development as confident women and entrepreneurs, the program also invests in their children.
Adult education and group support
Every year, Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA), Planeterra’s local partner in Moshi, provides free education to a group of about 50 women. Most of the women have children and take the initiative to go to school themselves in the mornings while their own children are attending.
Who says learning English can’t be fun?
As we listened to the stories of the women enrolled in these courses, a few patterns and themes emerged. The first was that these women often came from challenging home situations with unsupportive husbands. Second, the main motivation to become more independent and earn their own money was so that they could invest in their children’s education and wellbeing.
The GHTA curriculum focuses on vocational training – business, English language and handicrafts skills. The goal: when women graduate from the program, they have the practical skills to successfully run their own business or be hired for a better paying job. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the women told us that one of the most valuable skills they learned at GHTA classes: how to save, invest and manage money.
Learning about being a good sales person in business class.
Beyond the training, GHTA graduates can also apply for a grant to help start their own business and take part in a cooperative so their rental costs are subsidized for the first year of their business. They also receive business advisory services and support to help them through the rough parts at the beginning.
Stories of women, mothers, entrepreneurs
I could go on about the impact of this program’s classes and support, but I believe the women involved can tell this story best.
Husa tells her story of why she applied to go to GHTA classes.
Take Husa. She came from a family where her father decided that girls’ education wasn’t important, and he stopped sending all the girls in the family to school while the boys in the family were allowed to continue their studies. Husa’s primary motivation in the program is to be able to earn her own money so she can break this cycle for her own children. She wants to be certain she’ll always be able to send all her children to school.
When asked about what she’s getting from the GHTA classes, Husa responded: “I’m able to control my life. I have the ability now to work and earn money.”
One of Husa’s daughters is sick and comes with her to class.
And Husa isn’t wasting any time applying what she’s learned. She’s already opened a small restaurant and saving money for her own children’s private school education.
Meet Shose, a young mother trying to change perceptions.
At 24, Shose is one of the youngest student-mothers in the program. Her motivation in returning to school, in her own words, is “to help fight discrimination against women.” She, too, came from a family background that discouraged women from not only following their dreams, but having them at all. “I want to prove women can work and earn money.”
For Shose, one of the greatest benefits of GHTA classes was the network of women she met. “I know I’m not alone,” she now realizes. She and others formed close bonds in ways they all found surprising. Not only was this a network of entrepreneurs, but one of mothers and friends to provide emotional support for life, family and children’s issues.
Esther takes us around her business.
When we met Esther, she’d already graduated and taken a business grant and, with the skills she’d learned, set up her own business at GHTA’s cooperative space. She was confident, proud and didn’t seem afraid of anything. And she loved the camera.
So it was surprising for us to learn that when she began her classes at GHTA just a couple of years before, she was in a very abusive relationship. It took her a little time, but through the profits of her business, she was able to save enough money to move out, leave her husband and find a safe place to live with her children.
Esther in front of her shop, located inside GHTA’s cooperative space
It was easy to see Esther’s entrepreneurial streak – experimenting with new products and styles at her fashion and tailoring shop. She continuously improved her sewing skills to develop her reputation as a seamstress and knew how to talk up customers until she found a way to provide them something they needed.
She was already considering plans to expand her business, as well as find a bigger place to live with her children.
A business cooperative to support women entrepreneurs
Even with the skills and confidence that GHTA’s graduates possess, it remains challenging for women in Tanzania to find the credit and support to begin their own businesses. Many landlords in Moshi expect 6-12 months of rent paid in advance, making it nearly impossible for an average local woman to rent commercial space.
Creating handicrafts together at the Planeterra and GHTA cooperative.
This is where GHTA and Planeterra work together to provide a new kind of experimental learning cooperative space where young female entrepreneurs can further develop their business skills and apply them in the hospitality industry. Currently, the cooperative supports a handicrafts shop and spa where a small group of GHTA graduates work.
When G Adventures travellers climb Mount Kilimanjaro nearby, they have an opportunity to meet some of the GHTA graduates and buy their handmade handicrafts. Alternatively, they can book a massage and other spa treatments with a GHTA graduate to help recover from their climb.
Purchasing souvenirs to help support women’s education and skills-training.
Purchasing souvenirs or services not only helps provide income to the women entrepreneurs; it will also support GHTA adult education programs, as a portion of the proceeds will be re-invested back into the organization. With this sustainable source of funding, GHTA can continue to educate local women and mothers, thereby growing the effect and network of the program year after year.
Creating a new cycle
When talking with some of the local mothers who graduated from the program and are working in the handicrafts cooperative, one thing was clear: their newly developed ability to earn their own money gives them hope for their children’s future and the assurance that their own daughters would be able to go to school.
If not for them and this opportunity, how would the cycle change? Once this wheel is set in motion, it will be hard to turn it back.
Want to see this project in action? G Adventures runs a number of departures to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.