Girls’ education campaigner tells Michelle Obama: ‘We are unstoppable’

Girls' education

Fiona Mahvinga, far left, at the roundtable with Michelle Obama 

She was a little girl from rural Zimbabwe with big dreams. But while her family struggled to earn money to allow her to go to school, Fiona Mahvinga couldn’t have imagined that one day she would be discussing girls’ education with the First Lady of the United States.

Fiona was in London yesterday to represent CAMA – a pan-African network of young educated women supported through school by Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) – at talks with Michelle Obama and leading British politicians.

She told them: “My story – of a girl struggling to maintain her grip on education – is, as you know, the story of millions of girls around the world.

“So many of my friends in my rural village lost that grip due to poverty and their lives are so drastically different from mine today because of one thing: an education.”

Mrs Obama was in London to talk about girls’ education and to launch a join UK-US initiative to help children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of her Let Girls Learn initiative.

Fiona and CAMA help vulnerable children Picture: Camfed

Fiona joined her at a roundtable discussion at Mulberry School for Girls with Justine Greening, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, and Nicky Morgan, UK Minister for Women and Equalities. Fittingly, it was held on the Day of the African Child.

CAMA is the alumni association for graduates of Camfed, the non-profit organisation that helps marginalised girls go to school and become young leaders.

Fiona told how as a little girl she had woken at 4am every day to help her grandmother sell vegetables at the market to pay for food, stationery, school uniform and school books.

She said: “My mother traded dried fish for maize, which she sold to try and cover my school fees. Many times we went without food. So many times my hope for an education was almost lost.”

But she made it through school with excellent grades. Then, with support from Camfed, she went to university and became a lawyer in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

Fiona told Mrs Obama: “You believe so passionately in the power of girls’ education – that is why you are leading so many worldwide in the drive to Let Girls Learn. I am here today not to convince those around this table of that power. We all know it! I am here to share how. How, together with 33,000 other educated young women across Africa, I am unleashing that power for new generations of girls.”

Fiona with Julia Gillard of GPE Picture: Camfed

She explained how the CAMA network was founded in 1998 through the first 400 women supported through school by Camfed. It helps vulnerable girls – and boys – who have not been to school or are at risk of dropping out. In 2014 CAMA and its communities supported 263,655 children to go to school.

Fiona said: “Through Camfed’s model, we do not educate a girl and launch her into the world – she graduates into a community. An ever-growing community of educated young women that is repeating this process all over from the start for more girls. Again and again.

“CAMA is truly the embodiment of the ability of community-based solutions to unlock the power of girls’ education. And in three years there will be 130,000 of us, ready to lead the charge. We are an unstoppable human revolution.”

After yesterday’s London talks, Fiona went to the University of Cambridge to take part in a seminar on “Social transformation through education”. The panel of experts include Julia Gillard, board chair of the Global Partnership for Education, Hans Brattskar, Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. and Camfed CEO Lucy Lake.

The seminar was hosted by Camfed and the new Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the university. The REAL Centre will deliver high-quality research to understand the problems that disadvantaged girls and adolescents face and to identify practical solutions for change.

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