The Importance of Female Role Models
by Batonga Foundation
When I was young, my evenings were full of choruses by my mother, asking if I had completed my homework or if I needed any help. On the streets of my neighborhood, I ran into established female physicists and top-notch women in the field of law. It wasn't at all unusual to dream about becoming the CEO of a major company, or maybe becoming an engineer or a doctor. If these women surrounding me could do so, then why couldn't I?
It took me a couple years to realize that not everyone, not even close to everyone, is able to dream so unabashedly. Many girls around the world want to be educated, sure, but the path to high levels of education is one relatively infrequently traveled. As of 2009, only 25% of girls in Benin were enrolled in secondary school (UNESCO). There are many reasons for that; school is expensive, it's frequently hard to reach, and it can create domestic conflicts, among other obstacles. And sometimes, those obstacles can seem too numerous to make going to school worthwhile, and it's hard to find someone to tell these girls otherwise. Girls need those female role models, however. They need women who are able to say that their success is a result of their hard work in school, and who are able to relate to the problems that these young scholars face. Women who can both help them with their homework and give guidance about how to maneuver down a path less traveled. These mentors would provide support for whatever the students are going through, and their support could make the difference between someone's daughter dropping out, or graduating with a diploma. That is what girls need, and that is where Batonga steps in.
Here at Batonga, we provide the funds for girls in Mali, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Benin to go to school. But simply donating money to girls and sending them off to school is not enough. To keep girls in school, we partner with organizations like Hope for Children US in Ethiopia to create programs in places such as Addis Ababa to link established and educated women with those still seeking out their education. This enables the young scholars to see the benefits of an education, so that when barriers arise, they will be able to look up to someone who faced similar obstacles, but still made it through.
In Ethiopia, the Batonga Foundation supports a youth center in Addis Ababa that provides critical assistance to older youth as they make the transition from sponsorship to independence. By 2010, 175 youth were regularly taking advantage of the programs offered at the center, with attendance jumping to more than 300 during summer brakes.
Batonga goes beyond providing funds for tuition; this includes the building of a library to hold thousands of donated books, offering classes in academics like English and computer skills, and providing tutoring and contact with successful women who can serve as role models. The Batonga students each have their own mentor from the Century City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. These mentors, some of them from Addis Ababa themselves, serve as role models, and communicate with the girls as pen pals, offering guidance and support through their journey of receiving an education. The support system that we have helped build in places like Addis Ababa is crucial in making sure that the girls we sponsor (in addition to all of the other children who are able to take advantage of such resources) are both able to stay in and thrive in school.
These girls deserve the right to dream without restraint and to become who ever they want to be, and with the support of good female role models and organizations like Batonga and Hope for Children US, we are taking steps in the right direction.
If you would like to learn more about our cause, then visit our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. It only takes $25 to provide a university student in Ethiopia with a transportation stipend and notebooks for a year, so consider donating to help these girls complete their education.
Picture Caption: Angelique Kidjo, a Grammy-award winning singer and Batonga's founder, with Batonga girls