Education 2012: The global issue of educating girls
Education is always a hot topic in Western New York, so Anne Robinson Wadsworth never has a problem starting a discussion about the state of schools.
The fact that she is, at this time, focused on securing a new school for girls in a rural African village in no way dilutes her message: Education is a global issue with wide-ranging ripples.
A Buffalo native and former East Aurora School Board member, Wadsworth helped establish Enterprise Charter School in Buffalo and now serves as executive director of a new nonprofit corporation, the Girls Education Collaborative (GEC). GEC was incubated within the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project, an initiative of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Education Collaboration. In partnership with a local order of Tanzanian nuns, the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa, GEC is sponsoring the Kitenga Village Project, an ambitious plan of community development and life-altering improvements that begins with the building of a boarding school for 1,500 girls, kindergarten through secondary, on land donated by the Tanzanian government.
This is more than just getting a school roof over girls’ heads. In addition to the school, an adjacent health clinic to serve the whole community will be built. A deep bore well for access to clean water is also planned. “There are certainly very real needs and issues in our own community,” says Wadsworth, who spent a month last summer working at a school in Kenya, “but they are different. The word ‘poverty’ is grossly inadequate to describe the situation. These are communities in which major hurdles such as distance, lack of sanitation, and safety prevent many girls from attending school, especially secondary school.”
Even in the poorest communities in this country, there is likely a place to get health care, even if it’s an ER. In schools, there is a tap to turn on for water; at home, there is a light to turn on for doing homework at night. There are textbooks in classrooms. But in rural Africa, school is missed due to hours spent every day collecting firewood for cooking, or getting water. Children suffer from chronic dysentery. Girls of a certain age are subject to genital cutting and early marriage, barriers to continuing education.
A holistic approach—supporting girls, and thereby supporting the community—is the way forward, according to Wadsworth, who became engaged in the girls’ global education issue while studying for her master’s in public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Through her coursework and involvement with international students, she says she “learned the impact of what happens when a girl in a developing country receives an education.”
A stint living on a farm in Africa showed her “firsthand the commitment of the girls in that school to getting an education. I saw that little girls in rural villages in Kenya have hopes and dreams, just like the girls in our own backyard.”
The ripple effect of the Kitenga Village Project is seen community-wide. “When you educate a girl, you improve child survival rates and family-wide nutrition. Maternal death rates decrease,” says Wadsworth. Economic growth ensues, as girls are trained for careers, such as in health care, where there is a critical need. The Kitenga school will open first at the secondary level, with all phases expected to be completed within five years. Wadsworth, who four years ago ran the congressional campaign of the late Alice Kryzan, has announced that the Kitenga school library will bear her name in memoriam, thanks in part to the generosity of the Kryzan family.
GEC, through partnerships with international aid organizations and foundations as well as individual donors, will take on other projects in the future, with a focus on the grassroots efforts that are getting things done. “The need is so vast,” says Wadsworth, who grew up one of four daughters of the late Bishop Harold Robinson, who headed Buffalo’s Episcopal Diocese. “Giving back to the community is part of how I grew up,” says the mother of three, who went to graduate school after her children were grown and launched. “I knew I had a lot I wanted to do, and a lot to give.
“I have never wavered from my ‘a-ha’ moment in that course I took at Syracuse on educating girls in developing countries. I wanted to stay with it, and here in my own backyard, we’ve been able to create a significant opportunity—there are so many local people who have never had a chance to get involved, and now we have local Rotary clubs, professors, students, and documentary filmmakers working with us, all people who just want to help.
“Just because we have our own problems here, it doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on other communities where we can make a difference. We are, after all, under the same sun and moon.”
Maria Scrivani is a Buffalo writer with an interest in local history and people who make a difference.