The Girl Child Education Fund: Nursing initiative for orphaned girls

By Judith Shamian | 05/26/2016

Education contributes directly to female economic independence.

Four children

I want to share a story with readers of Reflections on Nursing Leadership. It’s not unlike many that we hear from those who benefit from the Girl Child Education Fund (GCEF).
“My name is Jane. I’m from Kenya. I come from a family of three girls. My mum was a nurse, and my father worked for the Ministry of Finance. Life was good, and everything went on well with my parents around. At a young age, I could see my mother was often sick, and one time she was in hospital for a very long time. We kept hoping she would get better.
Judith Shamian“One evening, our father came home in a sad mood. We could see tears in his eyes. He called all of us to his bedroom and told us Mum had passed on. That was the toughest news I have ever received. We went through my mum’s burial and returned to live with our father. Our father looked very depressed after our mother’s death. After a few months, he too got quite sick and passed on. That marked the beginning of difficult times for the three of us.
“Soon after our father’s funeral, our relatives shared everything we had, and we were left with nothing. We were shared among our relatives. My elder sister went with our paternal uncle while my younger sister and I went with my maternal aunt. Life became so tough, to the point that my aunt wouldn’t take care of us, because she was unemployed and also had a very big family. We found ourselves at the orphanage, where we lived for quite some time. We did get some education there, though we were always in and out of school.
“One evening, my auntie came to visit us at the orphanage, and we were so shocked because she hadn’t visited us in a long time. She had a smile all over her face. She told us she was taking my sister and me to go and live with her. She said the nurses were going to pay our school fees until we finished school. To say I was happy is an understatement.
“We were taken away from the orphanage, items required for school were bought, and we were enrolled in very nice schools that were just a dream. That was the beginning of a journey that has seen all three of us through school. The Girl Child Education Fund paid our fees through primary and high school. The coordinator was always there for me, even at university level, supporting where she could.
“My elder sister completed high school and went to university, and she now has a job. I am graduating this December in economics and already have a job. My younger sister will be attending university, too. We are now reunited as a family and living together. This project made a very big difference in our lives. We are what we are because of the GCEF. I am a confident, young professional woman. I just love what nurses do. Thanks, and God bless all of you.
“I am so grateful for the role the GCEF has played in my life in helping me achieve my educational goals and that I found the drive to be where I am today. I surely am more grateful than words could express.”
Two childrenThis is just one story from a young woman in Kenya who was supported by the Girl Child Education Fund. Developed and implemented by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and its sister organization, the Florence Nightingale International Foundation, the fund works directly with ICN’s member national nursing associations to ensure direct support for the education needs of girl orphans. Established in 2006, the GCEF supports the primary and secondary education of orphaned daughters of nurses in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia.
Why was this fund established? Girls account for 60 percent of the world’s estimated 113 million out-of-school children, owing to poverty, illness, cultural practices, fear, and violence. Girls are often withdrawn from school to provide child care at home. The majority of out-of-school children live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Education contributes directly to female economic independence. The education of girls and women is known to reduce poverty, lower birth and infant mortality rates, improve health and nutrition, raise productivity, promote gender equity, and increase the likelihood that the next generation will be educated. Education also is a powerful tool for reducing the social and economic vulnerability that exposes girls and orphans to a high risk of HIV/AIDS.
While the fund is not specifically intended as an AIDS effort, many girls are orphaned as a result of the AIDS pandemic. Children orphaned by AIDS are often the first to be denied schooling when their extended families cannot afford to educate them. They may also be denied education due to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else,” observes Melinda Gates.
The program also shows our solidarity and support of the nursing community in Africa. Many nurses are working in harsh conditions, risking their lives to care for those with AIDS, Ebola, and other communicable diseases. Difficult working conditions and low salaries result in many of them leaving the country or the profession. By caring for the daughters left behind, the GCEF demonstrates respect for and the value of work carried out by nurses in Africa.
Group of children

The project has not only changed the lives of these girls but also their guardians, teachers, and communities. Some guardians, having been relieved of the burden of paying fees, have managed to send other children in their care to school or start small businesses. One guardian reported: “Now I know my girls’ fees and other requirements are assured, and I can get the upkeep and the rest of the things she needs. At first I had too many worries. Maybe that is why I got heart problems, because I could not manage. Now my child is not sent home for lack of fees, and I can meet her other needs.”
Every girl in the GCEF program is paired with a nurse volunteer to monitor her progress. ICN’s partnership with national nursing associations in each country ensures protection of the dignity and privacy of the fund’s beneficiaries, as there is no personal or direct relation, obligation, or contact between donors and recipients. Click here to learn more about the Girl Child Education Fund.
Judith Shamian, PhD, RN, FAAN, is president of the International Council of Nurses.
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