Mauritania closed schools early at the end of March 2020 due to the Coronavirus. For the majority of the students, this meant the end of the school year without the option to do remote learning. For the 2020-2021 school year, schools reopened for in-person learning because the majority of families do not have access to computers and the internet at home.
Coumba shared with us:
“Not only the lives of our girls but their families have completely changed. The 150 women in the ANFE self-help groups that are the girls’ mothers and family members have also suffered because all of them are involved in informal income-generating activities and are responsible for supporting many family members, typically 12 to 15 people.
During Mauritania’s lockdown, markets were shut down and people were given only a three- to four-hour window to shop for food each day. The government put a curfew in place for two months and no one could travel between parts of the country, and all the schools closed.”
All of this has had harmful effects on the economy, especially on our women’s income-generating activities.
Until recently, all restaurants were closed and gatherings were prohibited. These women are now facing bankruptcy and they can no longer repay their loans due to lack of income. These additional income-generating activities all involve contact with people, which was prohibited and is still limited so all the activities of ANFE women had to stop.
ANFE organized funding to buy food and share it among families who cannot meet their food needs. ANFE has been contacting different food factories, supermarkets, and individuals for donations but so far they are still waiting. Coumba, the director of ANFE, has personally provided additional money to help the girls and families.
The microfinance groups organized a neighborhood and community center cleaning day and 3-day educational event around the importance of hygiene practices like handwashing, mask wearing, and staying socially distant to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
One of our high school students learned to sew cloth face masks by hand. She has taught other girls and women at the community center how to make the masks which they sell for additional income.
Donations to Girls to School have provided programming and support for 264 girls and women during an extremely challenging year. Your donation will help girls and their families be resilient in the face of COVID-19.
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More coverage of COVID-19 in Mauritania:
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Aminata had an early marriage and her husband made her leave school by taking her away to a village for two years. But she fled and went back to hide at her teacher’s house for one month. She only agreed to leave the teacher’s house with the condition that she could go back to her parent’s house and remain at school. Today, Aminata has returned to school and advocating to girls and parents never to make early marriages.
Halima is from a very poor family. Her father does not work and her mother sells juice. They live in a house with two rooms, with no water, with 10 brothers. She is the only girl in her family. This year, Halima was ill and absent from school for one month. But she still became first in her class by waking up 6 a.m. to wash the dishes and swept the house before 7 a.m. so she could work on her school lessons.
Mariem is a very determined 10-year-old girl in her studies because her dream is to become a lawyer. She goes from class to class, speaking for 10 minutes on the role of women’s rights and their protections. She speaks like a 20-year-old woman! She impresses the whole school and in her neighborhood they already call her the lawyer. She is the second in her class this year.
The Guardian’s Global Development blog posted an excellent article today titled, Education is a Powerful Weapon, So Let’s Arm Young Girls With It. They explain, “Reducing child marriage, providing access to health services, and getting more girls to stay in education will save many lives.”
Almost half the children in the world are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, over 93 million children are out of school – the majority: girls.
Girls to School is addressing this injustice in West Africa through established local organizations that create opportunities for girls to obtain a quality education, and women to obtain access to credit to catalyze income-generating activities.
The education and microcredit programs also have indirect effects on the community. Both men and women are seeing the importance of girls’ education and how it can help alleviate the realities of poverty. The mothers in the microcredit programs are teaching other women in the community the skills they’ve learned. A husband of one of the mothers laughed the first time he heard about his wife joining a microcredit group. Today he works with her at her stand in the market because he saw how she has been earning a steady income.