by Sanya Khetani
Africa is a big continent, and its issues often dominate the news: wars in Congo and Sudan, revolutions in Egypt, piracy in Somalia and economic depression in Zimbabwe. But every once in a while, a story comes along that not only brings an oft-sidelined issue (and country) to the forefront, but also sends a message of hope; like a former UN official’s attempt to educate girls in tiny Burkina Faso.
According to UNICEF, only 13 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys are enrolled in secondary schools in Burkina Faso, a country in northwest Africa. But the gross enrollment rate is rising, mainly due to government initiatives like free school supplies and no tuition fees for girls in primary schools, and girls’ education campaigns like those by Solidarite Goelo-Burkina, an organization that supports girls’ education in the town of Koudougou. Solidarite raises 7,000 euros a year for their projects. This year, they are putting 45 girls through school.
Fred Eckhard, the spokesperson for former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, was so impressed by their work, that instead of leading a quiet life of retirement, he personally raised over 24,000 euros for the organization. “To help 45 girls a year stay in school was and is an important step forward,” Eckhard says, explaining its significance in a country where child marriages and early pregnancies still prevail, and where girls are often forced to stay home and do chores instead of go to school.
While Solidarite’s support ends when the girl graduates from secondary school, Eckhard was able to raise funds to send two girls to university. Eckhard is now in the process of starting his own non-profit organization: the Burkina Women’s Education Fund, which will help fund the girls’ dreams to go to university. For 2011-2012, Eckhard will attempt to send nine girls to college. His new slogan? “Do Good; Have Fun.”