For the past three years, KEEN Footwear has been a donor of shoes for students of the Graduate Fund, a unique scholarship program developed by imagine1day, a non-profit that works to provide opportunities for education in rural Ethiopian communities. The program, developed by the organization’s Ethiopian staff and Executive Director Sapna Dayal, takes the innovative approach of providing “seed money” for secondary education, coupled with business training for the parents and/or caregivers of the scholarship recipients. The goal is to provide high performing students in often marginal financial, and sometimes familial, situations with the tools of wealth creation as opposed to direct financing. To illustrate how this works, we visited the family of one of last year’s recipients, Mearg, a 16 year old student who would like to someday be a chemical engineer.
Mearg lives with her aunt, Tsehaynesh, who also takes care of four other girls from her extended family—all of whom have lost their mothers in the past several years. Tsehaynesh tends her small flock of sheep and garden to provide for this family with food, shelter and payment for their school fees. Because they live about 20km from Mearg’s school in the town of Wukro, part of the cost of secondary education includes food and housing outside of her aunt’s home.
The Graduate Fund Scholarship that Mearg won in 2013 covered her first year of school and housing fees, extra tutorials, plus a small amount of seed money for Tsehaynesh to invest. Along with the seed money, Tsehaynesh received income generation training and help with opening her first bank account. This allows her to use her newfound skills to invest the seed money in such a way that the profits cover Mearg’s school fees and provides the family with continued wealth creation. Furthermore, for every year that Mearg stays in school, one third of the initial seed money loan is forgiven. imagine1day’s hope is that no amount of the loan will need to be repaid—the result of Mearg completing a full cycle of high school through to the 12th Grade in 2017.
Tsehaynesh proudly told us how on the very first day she received the seed money she bought four goats at one market, then went to another market and sold the goats for a 100 Ethiopian Birr profit (about U.S. $5.00). She has continued her trade and has improved her margins since then. So far in Mearg’s second year of high school, Tsehaynesh has been able to pay for her niece’s housing and school fees and continues to have money left over to invest for the future.
But like many in rural Ethiopian communities, this family is on the margin. Several months ago, Tsehaynesh’s nephew, who did much of the manual labor in the fields for the family, was killed in a car accident. Now in her 60’s, Tsehaynesh is slowing down and does not know how much longer she can work in the fields. This puts pressure on kids to choose work over school, perpetuating a cycle of subsistence labor over education. However, this family is committed to making sure all the girls in the household go to school. When asked what Tsehaynesh dreams about for her nieces, she said, “I want them to continue their education so they can help people like me. Education is a way out of poverty and away from the margin.”
imagine1day has supported 118 students like Mearg with high school scholarships. Learn more and fund a scholarship at The Girl Fund.