Growth Through Learning helping African girls receive education
It started as one man’s dream, but today it is helping fulfill the dreams of more than 226 African girls.
Growth Through Learning, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the education of young girls in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, started in Worcester in 1996 when an insurance salesman named Roger Whiting and his wife, Jeanne, went on safari.
While in East Africa, the Whitings observed how families could not afford to send their female children to school. While boys were educated so they could provide income for the family’s future, girls were married off and had no potential earning power.
“If you’re a poor farmer, and nearly everyone is, then it’s more logical to invest in the boy’s education than the girl’s,” said Alex Marthews, the organization’s executive director, who lives and operates most of GTL’s international affairs from his West Medford home. “I’ve seen it time and time again. A girl finishes primary school at age 12 and then family casts around to see if anyone will pay for secondary school.
“If not, she stays at home and after a few years of caring for her family, someone may take an interest in her and she will marry and become the second or third wife,” he added. “She will have six kids and die at age 60.”
But the Whitings decided they wanted to help at least one girl further her education. They came home, provided one girl with a scholarship and talked their friends into doing the same.
In 1997, there were 12 girls sponsored. Today, there are 226.
Marthews said Roger Whiting quit his insurance job to raise money for Growth Through Learning, which he founded and operated on the side until the organization outgrew his full-time career and he was forced to make a decision — one that would change the lives of hundreds of African girls.
“A scholarship is like a golden ticket for these girls,” Marthews said. “So they work very hard to be sponsored by us.”
Marthews said the organization identifies girls in need via school programs or through applications. Most are 13 or 14 when they come to GTL, which provides for not only their education, but supplies, uniforms and their boarding.
For an average of $700 a year, Marthews said a girl receives a quality education and a safe environment in which to study. He added a study done by a Harvard professor shows that for every one year of schooling, a girl’s lifetime earning potential increases by 15 percent.
“And you can really see the changes in them,” he said. “At first they come and they’re shy and they don’t talk much. After a year or two, they are engaged and they participate and they are excited about the possibilities of life again.”
Marthews said the organization makes sure the money it receives from sponsors goes directly to the girls. Frequent visits to the schools by GTL, including Marthews himself, is just one of the safeguards behind the scholarship program.
Coordinators in each of the three countries also keep up with school headmistresses to make sure the girls are doing well.
“People know where their money is going,” Marthews said. “We’re not working with the government, we’re working with people we have known for years and trust. We go out and check. That’s why we’re very confident that the money is going where it’s supposed to go.”
How it works
It costs 12 times as much to educate an American girl through four years of high school than one African teen. For $60, a sponsor will feed, clothe and educate one of GTL’s scholarship students for an entire month.
Marthews said GTL accepts any donation, whether it’s $10 or $700 because the money doesn’t go towards one student’s individual education, but rather into a pool. That pool is then divided among the candidates in the program.
That way, Marthews said, if one sponsor decides to forego a donation, no one girl suffers or is sent back to her village for lack of funds.
He added this way of donating has attracted people from every walk of life throughout the U.S. and England. And, the idea is expanding even though the economy is worse than it has been in decades.
“People want to do the most that they can with their money,” he said. “We have an endowment that covers our operating expenses so they know that all of their money is going to scholarships and not to salaries or elaborate parties stateside. It actually goes to these girls.”
And the results have been dramatic. Marthews said sponsors have seen these girls through four years of education, graduation and striking out on their own.
“With a high school diploma, a girl can work in a store or keep the books for a small business,” he said. “She can become a teacher, an assistant nurse. We have girls who have graduated and are now flight attendants. One is even working with an international non-profit.”
Right now, there seems to be nowhere GTL can go but up. Marthews said with 226 taken care of for this year, the goal is 300 for 2010.
“It’s considerably more than we’ve done,” he said. “We’d like to have 100 in each country and that would be a fantastic start. We’re helping with the education of a small portion of all the girls in need. These are bright girls from poor families who really deserve a chance in life. Our program wants to expand and remain accountable so that we can raise the development level in all of these countries.”
A father of twins who took on the GTL job part-time so he could be home with his own girls, Marthews said he can honestly see himself staying with this organization because it provides very personal help to deserving girls.
“I could do this forever,” he said. “I can see the massive change that it makes in the lives of these girls and all those people around them. These girls need all the help that they can get.”
If you would like to make a donation or want more information on Growth Through Learning, check out the Web site at www.growththroughlearning.org.
Contact Nell Escobar Coakley at firstname.lastname@example.org.