For our third week of Education Month, we're taking a deeper dive into girls' education. Educating girls goes far beyond learning and literacy — child and infant mortality drastically decreases, community health increases, and it results in the overall reduction of child marriages.

This week, we're featuring a story of young girl named Tumaini... I (Cassandra Lee) met her accidentally while I was visiting her neighbor, a twelve year old boy named Gaspar, who is a student in our secondary school.

Tumaini is eight. She wore a tattered dress and was busy sweeping the floor with a hand broom made from twigs.

“Jambo,” I greeted her softly. Her delicate frame and quiet demeanor made it seem like she would startle easily, and I didn’t want to scare her as a foreigner entering into her house. She shyly returned my greeting and continued on with her chores.

That could have been the end of the story. I was busy interviewing other community members and had many other people to see; all easy excuses to move on. But there was something about her that drew me in.

I turned to her again and asked if her mother was home. I then invited myself in for a more formal greeting, which is something that’s very common here.

The mother was nervous, but excited, to host us. She quickly grabbed a small stool for me to sit on, and another for one of our Congolese team members. She then turned and took a water jug to make a seat for herself.

We started asking her about her life. "Are you married? How many children do you have? Do your children go to school?"

Her story went something like this (I'll paraphrase): Years ago, rebels attacked her village in an area called Walikale in Eastern Congo. The attack was severe and everyone in her family was killed. With only a 3rd grade education and four children in her care, she moved to the village of Kalembe as she didn’t know where else to go. Her two oldest children have since moved away from home, and she’s left with the two youngest, Tumaini, age 8 and Daniel, age 6.

“Tumaini doesn’t have shoes and I don’t have money to buy her shoes, so she stays home with me and helps with the chores. Daniel has shoes so I sent him to school. Life is very hard,” she continued. “Some days I feel like I have no hope.”

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This is exactly why we’re here. It is for families like hers. It is so she can be reminded that in the face of war and poverty, there is still hope for her. She may have lost a battle, but together, we can help to see her succeed.

We work extremely hard to get more girls to attend school. Today, we've achieved complete gender parity across our seven programs, a rare feat in rural contexts, and something we're very proud of.

Everywhere we go, there are families just like Tumaini’s who first prioritize education for their boys. In order to shift this widespread attitude, our team works diligently at the ground level, working with individual families to change mindsets.

To reach communities, we host education rallies that draw in hundreds of people to hear testimonies of the importance of girls' education and how it impacts the community for future generations. We go door to door and talk with parents about the challenges of sending their daughters to school, and how they can overcome challenges.

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Educating girls, and women entrepreneurs, can help strengthen the local economy, even contributing to new employment opportunities. Girls with primary and secondary degrees earn higher wages and help prime the next generation for future success in school and beyond. Educated girls are also healthier and have healthier families. In fact, for each additional year of education a girl receives, infant mortality and child marriage statistics drastically decline!

Focusing on girls' education also helps to reduce extremism. In the face of war and conflict, educating girls helps bring peace and stability.

Simply put, educating girls transforms communities.

For Tumaini, her story is not over. With guidance and support from the Justice Rising team, Tumaini's mom now sees the value of saving and investing in shoes for her daughter, and in turn, her daughter's education. And with support from our global community, we plan to educate more girls just like Tumaini.

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