During a recent trip to Niger, I had the opportunity and privilege of meeting with those coordinating this West African country’s MCC Threshold Program. I came away impressed with their energy and dedication as they work in a challenging environment.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking near the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. It has bounced from drought to coup to famine for centuries. Nonetheless, its people persevere with dignity and fortitude in this country nearly twice the size of Texas.
And the MCC, in partnership with the government and people of Niger, have identified an important way to foster long-term progress and sustainable development: promoting the education of girls. Building upon its innovative program in Burkina Faso, the Niger Threshold Program is funding the IMAGINE (Improve the Education of Girls in Niger) project, which includes the building of 68 ““girl friendly”” schools in seven regions throughout the country. These school complexes will include three-classroom buildings with sufficient desks for all students, separate latrines for boys and girls, a water source, housing for female teachers and a school canteen.
Throughout the developing world, there are many obstacles that prevent children, especially girls, from going to school. Those barriers include long walking distances from school, hunger, early and forced marriages, and time-consuming chores at home. The result is that the cycle of poverty is continued over generations. Conversely, education is a powerful tool in fighting poverty, unleashing the potential of a whole segment of the population unaccustomed to having the opportunity to earn their own livelihoods. Research shows that providing girls one extra year of education beyond the average can boost eventual wages by 10-20 percent.
Over the long term, we believe that these kinds of programs aimed at improving the education of girls will lead to increased food security. This is because girls in school receive the knowledge and develop the skills that will enable them to better manage resources for themselves and their families.
Better education for girls also contributes to improvements in the nutrition, health and education of future generations. This knowledge will bolster other assistance efforts being carried out by organizations like my own, Catholic Relief Services. For example, we are implementing a nationwide effort in Niger to encourage the use of mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Better educated women will be more likely to see the benefits of using the nets and will make sure their families do so.