February 20th, World Day of Social Justice, is a key calendar date for those who are passionate about tackling poverty and inequality across the globe. Never has it been more important to listen to and empower those most marginalised - the majority of whom are women and girls. Crucial to this empowerment is girls' education - a human right, a matter of justice, and the best investment we can make for the economic development and stability of nations.
Those who have read my blogs will know that I believe that achieving true social justice means action today - not just words. This action is most powerful when we unlock the rich potential in poor communities to deliver life-changing (perhaps even history-making) change. This does not come overnight - but when you put structures in place that catalyse the multiplier effect of girls' education, it is possible to achieve sustainability and scale while focusing on the specific needs of every individual girl. Sound far-fetched? Let me explain.
Education transformed my life. In a context of rural poverty, that education was only made possible through the support of my family, my community and Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education). Without holistic support, I wouldn't have been able to achieve, go on to university and become a lawyer.
I wouldn't have been able to lead the development of a network of more than 80,000 educated young women, once marginalised, to change the futures of hundreds of thousands of children in Africa - children who are in greatest danger of being excluded, just because of the circumstances they were born into. I am so proud of my sisters in the Camfed alumnae network, CAMA. Together, to date, we have supported more than 270,000 children to go to school with our own resources. And we are developing programmes to drive up education quality.
One example of this is the Camfed Learner Guide Programme. 4,332 CAMA members have already been trained in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Ghana to return to their local schools to deliver vital life skills lessons to marginalised children, support their studies, and connect impoverished families with vital services. Learner Guides are paying forward the benefits of their education, while gaining valuable skills for future employment. Through the programme, Camfed has seen an unprecedented uplift in learning outcomes among the most marginalised girls. Learner Guides are so effective because they come from the communities in which they work. They understand first hand that it's easy to fall behind in your studies when you are too shy to speak up in class; when you have to work before and after school to put a meal on the table; when you are worrying about sick relatives, or pressure from a boy or man.
Now we are extremely excited about the future prospects of Learner Guides: learning company Pearson, which supported the development of the life skills curriculum, has partnered with Camfed to develop a bespoke BTEC for Learner Guides!
Today, my good friend Sinikiwe Makove from Camfed Zimbabwe will join Camfed CEO Lucy Lake at a special event hosted by Pearson, as the first 567 Learner Guides receive their BTEC. Pearson will certify 5,000 Learner Guides by 2019, helping to fast-track them into teacher training colleges and other life-changing professions. We are also celebrating the launch of a Pearson-matched staff fundraising campaign to help send more girls to secondary school.
This auspicious day brings together many individuals and organisations, including the Queen's Trust and Linklaters, that have supported the programme's extension across Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Together we have created a vehicle for real change, at scale, as evidenced by the programme's recent roll-out to Tanzanian schools in non-partner districts. Camfed is now extending the Learner Guide concept to provide support to young women in their communities after school.
One of our great success stories is Learner Guide Lindiwe Mehlo. Lindiwe, the first CAMA member in rural Zimbabwe to register her business with the government, sells her very own juice brand in supermarkets far and wide! She is one of the first BTEC recipients, and is saving her money to apply for teacher training college.
"Helping girls to stay in school, helping them to achieve what they want in life, that is my favourite part," Lindiwe says.
Her story -- and thousands more -- showcase what can be achieved when we come together behind communities as partners for social justice - and that it all starts with girls' education.
BTEC recipients writing to me are saying, "I have gained the respect I never expected at this age. I feel so powerful and able."
I think every young person deserves to feel like that. Don't you?