Originally published in the Huffington Post.
“My father would not send me to private courses to get ready for the high school entrance exam but the owner of the preparatory school gave me a discount and so I managed to attend.
We are trying to pay the rest of the course money by selling beans my mother has planted. My mother sometimes works in gardens
and brings home potatoes. Neither my mother nor I will give up.” – Excerpt from a scholarship application
Forty-five percent of girls in Southeast Turkey cannot read or write. Either their fathers or brothers do not approve of their education, they believe they are more useful in the house or they simply can’t afford all the expenses of schooling. Whatever the reason may be, almost half of the women in the region are illiterate. One of the most effective reactions to this appalling figure was by The Association for Supporting Contemporary Life (Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği, CYDD).
This organization steps outside the box and pays special, personalized visits to rural communities in search for girls that are being left behind. They attempt to convince the parents of the long-term economic gain of their daughter attending school. If the families accept, they provide the family with a monthly stipend to be used for books, preparatory classes and other expenses. In Turkey, public primary and secondary schooling is free, but it is required to pass an entrance exam for high school and university. Hesitant families see this stipend as making it worthwhile to send their girls off to school. CYDD has found an innovative and creative way to find the young girls who need the most help and get them out of the house during school hours. So far, CYDD has successfully granted primary and university scholarships to nearly 118,000 girls.
But what lies ahead for the girls whose families decide not to accept the scholarship? A documentary called “Girls of Hope” by Aysegul Selenga Taskent follows five girls in the Southeast region of Turkey who are fighting for their education. The film shows the desperate face of a girl who waits to hear if her brother will allow her to study. It follows a young student who proudly walks one hour to school because she says “through these hardships lies my road to college”. And a girl mature beyond her years sees a bleak future for herself, even though her dream is to become a teacher. The film interviews and meets with the families of girls who are receiving or wish to receive the stipend from CYDD.
Each year, the world celebrates the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. The importance behind this day stems from the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights. The theme for 2013’s celebration is, fittingly, Innovating for Girl’s Education. How are we trying harder to achieve education for all? What methods are we adapting to bring all girls into the classroom?
Organizations like CYDD should be celebrated for their past work and supported so they can achieve more. Their approach has proven effective. Through the work on these organizations, the number of girls in classrooms in Southeastern Turkey increased nearly seven percent from 2009-2010. That’s a hopeful accomplishment I think we all can admire.
Turkish Philanthropy Funds and WomenOne will host a film screening of “Girls of Hope” on October 11th, 2013 in NYC. Donations will be accepted for CYDD. Email email@example.com for details on the event.