Gussie Cohen & Lucy Tothill
Educating Girls Globally (E.G.G.) was established in 2013 with the aim of increasing the standard of, and access to, girls’ education globally. By uniting a global network of young leaders with a common passion for social justice, we have completed a number of construction projects at girls schools in Malawi.
At these schools the girls face many challenges in just going to school. Traditional gender roles and cultural beliefs mean that education is not within reach for many girls in Malawi. Multiple factors are at play such as early marriage, the dangers of commuting to school, as well as the expectations and responsibilities of girls within the household. Furthermore, a lack of adequate infrastructure and funding for teaching and learning resources results in a poor standard of education for girls.
Earlier this year, Gussie and Lucy decided it was time to fly over and see the projects that have been funded, as well as identify future construction opportunities. It was heart-warming to visit Lilongwe Girls’ School, where E.G.G. has funded a number of projects. The girls and staff were extremely grateful for the improvements that have been made to their school. Including a new security wall and bathroom facilities. Previously, the students had been missing valuable class time while waiting for the one useable toilet on site, and vendors on the street posed a huge threat to the girls wellbeing. With these basic necessities now provided for, we look forward to funding classroom facilities at Lilongwe Girls’ in the future.
Lucy and Gussie also visited Kabuthu Secondary School, where E.G.G. is funding the construction of a girls’ boarding house for more than 60 pupils. At the school, they were shown the girls’ current living conditions. ‘It is hard to put into words how appalling the state of their accommodation is. We walked into rooms no bigger than a hen house, where as many as five girls slept cramped on the floor’ Lucy recalls. ‘The huts were leaky, dishevelled and had no privacy or security. Furthermore, the girls lived in close quarters with animals and they feel unsafe using the inadequate bathroom facilities at night, as they are positioned off school grounds.’.
While it was heart-breaking to see first hand the true struggle that girls face in order to receive an education, Lucy and Gussie found it uplifting to visit the construction site where the new hostel was almost complete. The girls will soon be moving int0 safer, more hygienic and more comfortable living conditions. They also spoke to the principal who explained how much this project means to the community. Since construction began, enrolment for girls at this school has already greatly increased.
One of the most confronting experiences of their trip to Malawi however, was their visit to Dzaleka Refugee Camo, which houses over 32,000 displaced people. ‘It is easy to feel disconnected from the refugee crisis, but we met many people who like us, had been educated and were excited about the opportunities of the world – only to have had no choice but to run from true horrors and seek refuge in a crowded camp’ Gussie says. Worse still there was nowhere for the thousands of young children to go to school. The experience was eye-opening for the girls and they see great potential for E.G.G. to build classrooms at Dzaleka in the years to come.
It is easy to forget how privileged our lives are in New Zealand. For Lucy and Gussie, their time in Malawi was a real reminder of why they started E.G.G. and the importance of girls’ education. They have come to better understand the many cultural, social and economic barriers preventing girls from attending school and are now more motivated than ever to fight for girls’ education.
Lucy and Gussie are extremely grateful to the St Margaret’s community for continuing to actively support Educating Girls Globally and allowing them to empower girls through education.