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When You Educate One Woman, You Educate the Whole Nation

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Today, education exists as a privilege, not a right, because many students’ educations are cut short due to cultural expectations. There are essentially as many girls enrolled in primary schools as boys, but girls are often forced out of school in their later years due to early marriages and pregnancy.

Such was almost the case for Jestina Barleah, a teen who lives in Ganta, Liberia. At age 14, when she got pregnant, Barleah expected to drop out of school. However, her mother had a different plan for her. Now, at age 16, she is thankful for her mother and her insistence that her daughter stay in school.

Barleah says, “I was feeling bad and I didn’t want to come to school, but my mom said I had to keep going.”

Her mother’s tremendous efforts to help her daughter continue her education are particularly lucky given how vital education is, especially for young girls in areas such as Liberia. While Jestina is in class, her mother watches over the child.

Barleah’s mother carries the baby on her back while she sells mineral water on the street and in local markets. She has completely dedicated her time and hard work to making sure that Jestina can take full advantage of her opportunity to learn.

As well as the student’s mother, the school Jestina attends has also allowed her to continue her education more easily. The school, as well as some other public schools in Liberia, is managed by Bridge International Academies, a company contracted by the government which has a policy against expelling teen moms.

Bridge, along with other campaigns in Liberia and beyond, aims to ensure girls complete their education at the same rate as boys. The program has seen great success.

Shannon May, the Bridge co-founder, explained, “Most parents, once they see there is another way, they are receptive. Especially the mothers.”

Such has certainly been the case with Jestina and her mother.

George Werner, the Minister of Education, added, “Traditionally, girls did not have the same choices as boys. If parents had to choose between kids they could afford to send to school, they usually picked the boy while the girl stayed at home to do chores.”

Moreover, the stigma that girls must immediately get involved with marriage, domestic chores, and pregnancy at an early age must be stopped. This is something that Hannah Malee, a fifth grade teacher at Barleah’s school, reports that she witnesses too often.

Malee explains that by the time girls get to fifth grade, many are in their late teens. This makes them more susceptible to pressures of an early marriage or pregnancy, which reduces their chances of completing their education and explains why a girl to boy ratio of four to six still persists.

National and international campaigns are taking steps to be an influence for this cultural change. The empowering and famous slogan, “When you educate one woman, you educate the whole nation,” should be recognized across the world.

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