It has been an amazing year so far!
These Numbers Have Faces continues to grow, impacting dozens of students in South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda! We spent most of March in Uganda and Rwanda. It was a whirlwind of activity, opportunity, and camaraderie as we met new students, assessed our programs, and built new relationships for further growth.
Here are a few specific updates about our programs with an emphasis on women’s empowerment.
Several young women will be graduating this year in Rwanda. The exciting thing is that with additional funding and new slots opening, we’ll have new students given the opportunity to attend University. We have initiated the application process, and we’ll have seven young women chosen from dozens of applications.
One graduate that we’ll miss particularly is Margret. She is a natural leader, and an incredible mentor to the younger girls in the program, particularly those who have faced significant amounts of physical and/or emotional trauma.
Margret is finishing here degree at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) where she majors in Computer Engineering. KIST has fewer than 25% female students, and is the premier science and engineering university in the country. Our dream is to help Margret get a job with a tech startup, where she would remain in Kigali building software for smart-phones and other Web platforms.
Check out more of our Rwanda stories and Student Profiles.
We have eight awesome new of students in South Africa this year. Our students are busy planning for a June retreat together, and the new students are acclimating to their peers and the new world of University education.
One of our new students, Phumza (pictured below), was in hospital for a week with complications from Diabetes. She is a brilliant Analytical Chemistry scholar at one of the best universities in South Africa.
We were concerned that she might need to leave the program to recover, and re-start the program after a semester.
After delving into her life situation, it became clear that her diabetes was causing significant medical problems. The core issue was that she was taking her insulin shots on an empty stomach. Further inquiry revealed that her father had been absent for most of her life, and she was far from her mother on the eastern cape. Her brother, who had been
able to supply a small monthly stipend, about $40, had been unemployed for some time and had ceased to do so. Her sister, who had also been supporting her, was pregnant, and needed to save money for the birth of her child. She was dependant on small hand-outs from her church for food.
The net result was that she was injecting insulin while on an empty stomach because she didn’t have any money to eat, and would skip days, going without eating due to lack of funds.
Once we were able to drill down to focus on the problem, we were able to address it. Our South Africa Director, Edwin, visited her several times in Hospital. Sadly, no other single person visited her during this time, including her siblings whom live in Cape Town.
Our South Africa Director communicated with her school so she would not be penalized for missed work, and facilitated the diet instructions from the medical personnel to ensure she would have proper nutrition. He also conducted a home visit in the townships. The home-visit assured us of her financial need, and it allowed us to make sure that she had refrigeration for food, a means to cook, and a clean, safe working environment for her studies.
We also immediately made a decision to implement a monthly stipend from our contingency funds, roughly USD $110, and that was wired directly from out staff in South Africa into her account, so it was immediately available for food the day she was discharged. The joy of this story is what she had to say about the experience:
"Because of These Numbers Have Faces, I've never felt so loved or part of a family." - Phumza
And it gets even better: When we shared her story through our blog and our advocate community, the support was overwhelming- we had donations coming in within minuets, and in less than 24 hours, the members of our community had raised enough support to take care of her food stipend, not only for this year, but for all four years of her college education. WOW!
For our US based staff, it is inspiring to see so many of our followers step up, and when given a clear choice between apathy and compassion, choose to let their humanity shine through, and reach out to support another human being on the far side of the Earth.
Learn more about our South Africa Program!
The issue of physical and emotional trauma and its impacts on our young female students is one that is of growing concern to us. In South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda we know that this is an underlying and difficult problem, but one that cannot remain unaddressed.
Senior high-school girls in need of University scholarships.
I recently was able to sit in on an interesting discussion among university students in Uganda. In an open discussion forum, they were debating an interesting story:
“A young woman from a wealthy family has fallen on hard times when her parents died. They left enough money for her to finish her secondary school. When it comes time for her to attend University, and uncle offers to pay her tuition every semester. When she is one semester away from graduation, he says that she must have intercourse with him or he won’t pay her tuition, and she will be forced to leave university without graduating. Should she agree?”
The debate was fascinating to observe. One young man commented several times ‘that when someone gives you something, you must give them something in return…’ It became even more interesting when a young woman asked “When is it okay for a woman to beg, to be a beggar?”
I learned later that of this cohort of students, fully 1/3 of the women will bear children out of wedlock by the end of university, with significant negative repercussions for their personal, academic, and professional futures.
These Numbers Have Faces CEO Justin Zoradi made the immediate decision to commit $2,500 on the spot to initiate a process around gender, sexuality, and women’s empowerment. Our first step was the creation and dissemination of a questionnaire that would help clarify perceptions of gender and relationship norms. The survey was given to both men and women who are university graduates, and whom attended an elite secondary school on full scholarship for two years, which has a heavy focus on moral leadership and character development. In a sense, they are an academic and cultural elite.
While we have not completed an analysis all of the results, one trend is clear: Physical abuse is considered a normative and appropriate response in sexual relationships.
We need to have a way to address this with our students that is appropriate, effective, and adequately funded. While we are not experts at implementing gender-based curriculum, we are fortunate that there are many organizations on the ground that focus on this, with a long work history in the region and a solid track record. There exists a range of curriculums and interventions, as well as a full spectrum of behaviors that they are designed to address.
We see this as really a two-part process. The first addresses the downside behaviors- mitigating the effects of sexual violence, coercion, and dealing with trauma. The second aspect is more positive, focusing on engagement and empowerment.
To put it in concrete terms: How do we help heal a student who has endured sexual assault, prevent it from happening again, and also make sure that she attends a youth leadership conference with the poise, confidence, and ambition to participate and to thrive?
We know that there are no easy answers, and this is not our primary expertise. But we can commit ourselves, and we can begin. And you can help us. If you’d like to do something concrete to help young women in Africa attend university, become an advocate for These Numbers Have Faces.
In conclusion, our programs are expanding and gaining increasing depth and strength. We also continue to realize that the need for education is significant. There are new areas, especially gender, sexuality, and women’s empowerment, that demand our attention and a commitment of resources.
Thank you for your continued interest and support for These Numbers Have Faces.
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