JBFC Girls Beat the OddsJuly 25, 2016 4:07 pm
There was tension in the air – nerves, laden with sadness, and a sense of the unknown.
Imelda glanced around the familiar landscape, while her sisters dutifully carried her mattress, bags, and supplies to the car.
This was it… this was the moment when we’d say good-bye.
Hugs were exchanged, tears flowed, prayers were said and well-wishes were given.
It was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. Imelda is our first girl to leave JBFC to continue her education.
As I watched the girls say good-bye, I couldn’t help but feel like I was witnessing a miracle.
To understand what this moment means for Imelda and for JBFC, you have to take a step back.
First of all, without the love and support of all of our friends, Imelda wouldn’t have found a home at JBFC. She could have been another statistic, begging on the streets, not attending school. According to the Education Policy & Data Center only one in four 15-24 year olds in Tanzania have completed 7th grade. The numbers are worse if you’re a girl, and even worse if you’re poor, and you live in a rural village.
But our girls continued to beat the odds. For every 10 girls enrolled in primary school in Tanzania, only about four transition to secondary school. 41%. That’s about average for sub-Saharan Africa, but still in the bottom 12% of the world.
So six months ago when I watched Imelda and seven of her sisters at JBFC walk across the graduation stage that was another miracle… another achievement they weren’t supposed to attain. They did what many girls in Tanzania rarely do. They have graduated from secondary school.
Now, a little background on the Tanzanian education system. In Tanzania, to continue your post-secondary education, students in their last year of secondary school or Form 4 (which is the US equivalent of 11th grade) have to pass a national exit exam. Based on these test results, a student can continue to Advance Levels (Form 5 & Form 6), which is the first step towards achieving a university education, or the student will be placed in the community college system. If you fail the exam, then you can pursue vocational programs or apprenticeships.
In Tanzania, only 8% of girls in 2012 transitioned to A-Levels or Form 5.
Eight out of 100.
At JBFC, Imelda, Eliza and Anna all are heading to Form 5.
So it’s with this knowledge that I watched the tears, I watched as Imelda held her sisters close, before climbing into the car to start the next phase of her life. I wanted to cry too… but I also wanted to shout for joy and thank the heavens!
The next day I had the privilege of joining JBFC’s COO in Tanzania, Seth Diemond, in taking Eliza and Anna to their Form 5 boarding school. They’re attending an all-girls boarding school about three hours away from JBFC’s campus in Kitongo. The school was tucked away in the hills and the sounds of students singing welcomed us to the campus. More than 500 girls attend the school. And one of the instructors, who registered the girls, proudly showed off their Form 6 examination results – a 100% pass rate. The campus was well cared for, safe, and filled with some of Tanzania’s brightest young women… and our JBFC girls were among them.
I will say I have never had more empathy for my parents, who dropped me off at college nearly 700 miles away from home, then when it was time to leave our girls. Nerves had gotten the better of them and they were in tears. Growing up is hard to do… and letting your kids grow up is equally as hard.
As we drove away, the pride chased away the sadness as I remembered just how much these girls have overcome to get here. I’m confident they will adjust and rise to the occasion just as they have so many times before.
Imelda was placed at a school a little farther away in Moshi. But her teacher said she had already fallen in with a group of girls from Mwanza (the biggest city closest to JBFC) and was getting along fine… just like we knew she would.
JBFC is a family, so these good-byes are merely farewells. We will see these girls again on parents’ day and holidays. We’re checking in with them regularly to make sure they’re cared for and studying hard.
We still have five girls to place in college and vocational programs. There will still be more sad good-byes and hopes for the future.
But this is the promise of JBFC.
Guest Blogger, Ashli Sims, is JBFC’s COO in the United States.
This post was written by Mainsprings