ICN’s Girl Child Education Fund (GCEF) was set up in 2005 to support access to education for the orphaned daughters of nurses in developing countries.
The fund supports girls through school in four African nations - Eswatini (Swaziland), Kenya, Uganda and Zambia – and helps them to go on to achieve fulfilling and successful lives.
Since its inception, more than 400 girls have benefitted from the programme, with 311 girls graduating from secondary school so far.
There are currently 79 girls being supported through the fund at an average cost of 1,500 US Dollars per girl, which pays for their school fees, uniforms, shoes and books.
Stella de Sabata, Programme Manager of ICN said: “In the past 15 years more than 300 girls have graduated from school with the support of the Girl Child Education Fund. That might sound like a drop in the ocean, but this programme makes a tangible difference to each of their lives that has a ripple effect on their families and communities. What comes to mind when I think about the girls I have met are their gratitude, resilience and purpose, and their drive to succeed in honour of their lost parents. These girls, and indeed their guardians, deserve all our respect, and the sustained support we are able to provide them through the GCEF.”
Lusaka-based Amukusana Mutandi, who is the Programmes and Labour Relations Officer at the Zambia Union of Nurses Organisation, has been the GCEF Zambia Coordinator since 2006.
She said the programme has changed the girls’ lives beyond recognition.
Ms Mutandi says: With education comes power. The girls get empowered to change their futures for the better. Attending education leads to a better career choice, it makes the girls more aware of their rights and able to work out their futures.
‘Without education girls are more vulnerable to certain vices. In our setting, girls who have not been enlightened [through education] are not able to refuse certain vices, you see them get into early marriages, you see them forced into child labour.
‘But when they are educated, they get to have that empowerment over themselves, they know what is wrong and they know what is right. We want to see a generation of girls that will be able to regenerate their nations, that will add value to their communities.”
Ms Mutandi said it brought joy to her heart to see girls attending school who would otherwise not have been able to pay their school fees, or would have had to stay at home during their periods because they did not have sanitary items or soap.
‘I want to extend my gratitude to the nurses and others who have supported this project. I wish to express the joy in our hearts when we see girls who would have struggled to pay their school fees, who would have had to stay at home during their monthly cycles, who would have had to go round to their neighbours asking for a pen or a book because they can’t afford a book to get to school. When you see them receive their supplies and they are able to go to school because they have sanitary towels and soap to take a bath – we just want to say thank you.”
Alfonsinah is a 17-year-old from Zambia who joined the GCEF in 2015. She has completed her schooling and lives with her uncle. Her mother was a nurse and Alfonsinah wants to follow in her footsteps.
Alfonsinah said: “Girls I know who didn’t go to school got married at a very young age. They didn’t have any choice. Being able to attend school has changed things for me. I have developed courage and the confidence to fulfil my dream of becoming a nurse. I want to be a registered nurse and I want to work in a hospital nurse.”
Wana, who is 12 years old, is from Mongu in Zambia. Her mother, who was a nurse died, and she now lives with her father and stepmother and her brother and sister. She had wanted to be a nurse like here mother, but lately she has decided she wants to qualify as a lawyer to help people who are less fortunate than her.
Wana said: “Before I was on the programme it was difficult, but now it is easy. I didn’t have money to pay for school after my mother died. But [the Fund] sends me things, they pay for me at school and do a lot of things for me. When I leave school, I want to look after my family. I want to be a lawyer, because there are a lot of people who are suffering who need help, so I need to study for them.”
Grace, aged 15, is from the St Theresa’s Eregi school in Kakamega in Kenya. She said she owes her current life to the GCEF.
“The GCEF really means a lot to me because if it was not for them, I really do not know where I would be right now. I had a broken heart when I heard of the death of my beloved mother. I was still very young, but the GCEF came in and supported me by paying my school fees and catering for all my needs, including doing my shopping, paying for the bus to school and giving me pocket money.
‘The GCEF has changed a lot of girls’ lives: it has reduced rates of school dropout and teenage pregnancies. I think it really is a life saver. My dream is to go to university in Nairobi, and my career ambition is to be a doctor.”
Jane, aged 14, from Kenya
“I was five years old when my mother died. It was a really hard time for me, but I had to accept it and live with it. My father was struggling because there were four children at home. When the GCEF decided to help and support us, it was really a blessing to us. GCEF has helped me to join school in time. It supported me during hard times. It has really changed my life. Thank you so much for your support. God bless you all.”
In 2011 the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges they face around the world, to promote their empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.