Guest Blogger – Tieneke vanLonkhuyzen is the Partnerships and Communications Manager at Nike Foundation. She previously served as Program Officer at the United Nations Foundation, focusing on girls’ and women’s issues. During her time at UN Foundation, Tieneke helped conceptualize, launch and implement Girl Up.
Education is important to me because it’s about more than just going to school – it’s about shaping our thoughts and ideas and opening up opportunities later in life.
I still remember writing one of my first book reports in elementary school. It was about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States who went on to start a hospital for poor women and children. For a long time after I read the book, I wanted to be a doctor. That’s not what I grew up to be, but reading about Elizabeth Blackwell was part of what showed me that women and girls deserve equal opportunities. I’m still inspired by her story and am thankful that my education led to a job where I work with the UN to support programs for girls around the world.
Every child should receive a quality education. Yet 140 million children and adolescents are out of school and more than half of them are girls. That’s why Girl Up supports UN programs that ensure that adolescent girls have access to quality education and complete schooling.
In Guatemala, one of the countries where we work, more than 2 million children do not attend school – most of them indigenous girls in living in rural areas. On average, girls have less than three years of schooling in Totonicapán and Huehuetenango, two districts in the Western Highlands of Guatemala where the UN is launching a new program for adolescent girls with support from Girl Up. Some girls aren’t in school because they don’t speak Spanish. In Guatemala, there are 23 officially recognized indigenous languages. Many girls grow up learning an indigenous language and find it difficult to learn at school when classes are taught in Spanish. Therefore, the UN program we’re supporting is working with the government to develop bi-lingual educational materials in Spanish and local, indigenous languages so that all girls have a chance to learn.
Girl Up is also supporting UN programs that give girls a ‘second chance’ at school. Some girls are forced to drop out of school due to poverty to help earn an income for their family. Child labor – paid work that violates national law or international conventions – is higher in Guatemala than anywhere else in Latin America: 20% of 7-14 year olds are working. With Girl Up’s support, girls who have dropped out of school can participate in an accelerated learning program that helps them to catch up and re-enter formal school.
This fall, keep following Girl Up’s Back 2 School Initiative to learn more about why education is important for girls and how you can take action.