Empowering women to take their rightful place in society has been a passion of mine since the 60’s when I first became aware of how undervalued women are. This, coupled with my love of Africa where I was born and my resolve to help make right an iota of the wrongs that had been meted out to Africans for over 200 years, drove my decision in 2007 to finally go back and to start building schools for girls.
But where to start? It had been 45 years since I’d left, I had no relatives or acquaintances there anymore, and there were 42 countries to choose from! A year earlier, I had donated funds to World Vision to build a water project that would bring water to 3 villages in Kenya, along with a few schools, so that girls wouldn’t need to miss school to fetch water each day. I realized I would never get my plan off the ground if I stayed in Canada, so I decided to go to Africa and see for myself how one might get started building schools.
What I discovered was a need so great, and government support so insufficient, that I could literally spend the rest of my life building schools in just Kenya alone, and never come close to satisfying the need.
I began working with a local NGO to manage the building projects when I couldn’t be there, but after a few years it became apparent that poor oversight and misuse of funds was hampering our success. I realized that the time had come to take ownership of this endeavour and run it like a business. I formed a charity, named it One Girl Can, and registered it with the government of Canada so that we could expand our ability to source funds. I hired a full-time Project Manager based in Africa, and increased my trips to twice a year to oversee and expand the operation.
We began building faster, better and more cost-effectively than ever before. We focused on meeting the needs of each school, maintaining relationships that would span years while we built classrooms, science labs, indoor washrooms, dormitories, libraries, etc. etc. We continue to be committed to building academic environments that optimize a girl’s capacity for learning and safety.
By the time we had started on our 5th school, I became aware that I’d been focusing solely on the buildings themselves, and had neglected to notice that these alone did not empower girls to achieve their potential. It was a starting point, but there was so much more that we could be doing.
That’s when we instigated the scholarship program to ensure the brightest girls in our schools had the means and the motivation to go further and develop constructive careers. This initiative gave me the opportunity to begin talking to the girls, one-on-one at first, and later in larger groups as more girls wanted to be part of the conversation. I learned through this how few role models and mentors these girls were exposed to in rural areas where most women living in extreme poverty were illiterate. Over the next few years, we developed a formal mentorship and coaching program that ensured every girl in all our schools would benefit from confidence building, strategic thinking, and career planning workshops.
We’re now building our 6th school, and have the 7th in our sights, but in spite of the enormity and expense of these infrastructure projects, our focus is firmly leveraged on the individual, on One Girl’s ability to succeed in high school, earn a scholarship to university, and attain a career. This is when we can truly say that we have empowered a girl to be equal, and to have a voice in her family, her community and her country.
We Build. We Educate. We Mentor.