Grace was 13 when she was abandoned.
She was left in a small house to live by herself with no money, no supervision and no one to take her to the doctor if she got sick.
Her grandmother, who had raised her for the majority of her life, could not look after her anymore.
More than 90 per cent of people in Tanzania, a country that has twice the population of Australia, live on less than $2 a day. Grace didn’t even have that.
She was a girl thrust into an adult world – without the guidance or the skills to navigate it.
Her performance at school was “poor”, Grace told Mamamia. Often, she couldn’t afford to get there, let alone buy a book or a pen. It didn’t take long for her to be “kicked out”, sealing her fate as one of the three million Tanzanian children who never finish school.
Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of secondary school enrolment on the planet. Grace wasn’t the exception – she was the rule.
And then along came Room to Read.
Grace’s story. Post continues below.
If we truly want to change the world, the non-profit organisation has determined, then the solution lies within decades of research: Teach girls to read.
Room to Read was founded on the belief that, “world change starts with educating children,” and two thirds of the illiterate population are women.
When girls are taught to read, it changes the course of not only their lives, but the future of their communities. Women who can read, research tells us, then teach their children to read.
If we want to make the world a better place – the answer is simple. Start with Grace.
And that’s precisely what Room to Read did.
They provided the supplies, from stationary to a uniform. They enrolled her in a life skills program, which explores communication, self-awareness, empathy, confidence, time management, and ultimately helps girls decide what job they want to pursue. They developed her skills in reading, writing and mathematics. They partnered her with a mentor named Neema, a young woman who also went through the Room to Read program, and despite her qualifications as a lawyer, now works as a social mobiliser.
Grace is in senior school now, and next year will enrol in college. She wants to be an economist, she told Mamamia, with a brilliant, eager smile across her face. And she wants to “help other girls reach their goals… just like Room to Read helped me.”
Neema, Grace’s mentor, has worked with hundreds of girls.
She was the only girl, out of her class of 100, to go on to secondary school.
Her good friend, she told Mamamia, dropped out because she was pregnant. Her sister dropped out because she wanted to get married.
“I can’t make my friend go back to school,” she reflected. “But I can make other people stay in school and help other girls, girls just like my friend, have a chance at a good future.”
Neema explained that you cannot force a girl to stay in school. “She has to choose,” she said. It is her job to teach girls problem solving skills, “guiding them through the process to get to their own solution.”
She teaches the girls about health, pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, subjects most know nothing about.
Neema can understand why girls stop going to school. Often, it’s for economic reasons, just like Grace. They live really far away from school and can’t afford to get there, or don’t have the means to purchase the books. Room to Read circumvents that problem by providing material support.