To date Opportunity EduFinance has helped over 2 million students in low income countries to secure access to affordable, quality, private education. Of those approximately 1 million are girls. This school in Uganda is just one of the hundreds of schools across the world joining Opportunity EduFinance in helping the children who need it most.
One of the most important, and insightful, parts to my role, involves visiting and talking to Opportunity EduFinance clients to get a deeper understanding of the work being done and the challenges faced by our staff and the schools they work with. One of the schools I recently visited was a day school in Uganda, an unassuming building at the top of a hill. Margaret, who works for our partner Opportunity Bank Uganda Ltd, proudly told me the director of this school had started with a $50 loan from Opportunity 16 years ago.
As we walked through the gates, swarmed by primary school students playing in the courtyard, Sarah the Proprietor walked towards us with her hand extended in greeting, explaining, “This is the lower school”. She took us to her office snaking through the different add-ons, extensions, improvements she has made throughout the years, pointing them out lovingly but with the firmness of a no-nonsense Proprietor. We made it to her office where she told us about her journey, once a small school the school now serves hundreds of children. With each School Improvement Loan Sarah expanded. She improved infrastructure which allowed more students to attend, teachers to enhance their skills and classrooms to be better served. At the time of my visit, Sarah had utilized over $120k in loans and was serving upwards of 500 children.
At the end of our conversation Sarah took us to her latest project, and most recent reason for loan application – a boarding wing and gender separated bathroom facilities. With families who lived far away, students were transported into the busy capital city of Kampala from surrounding rural areas to receive a better education. A large warehouse looking room had been set up with bunk beds. The dormitories needed sprucing up so we could see the reason for the loan, but it was when Sarah took us to the washrooms that we began to see the larger picture. Sarah told us, “right now girls will not board because there are no private bathrooms for them to use.” The loan would also enable Sarah to build a separate washroom for girls so they could feel safe and comfortable when boarding.
According to The Water Project over 50% of primary schools worldwide do not have adequate sanitation facilities and access to clean water. Without running toilets, it is not uncommon for young women to drop out when they reach puberty.[i] Access to safe and clean toilets can be the determining factor between continued attendance and dropping out. When girls start menstruating they require clean water with which to wash themselves and their pads. Infrastructure that does not accommodate this very real need ultimately pushes girls out of schooling after primary school.[ii]
A seemingly archaic notion, it is still true that schools remain unsafe or unwelcoming for girls. Sarah wanted her school to be one that boarded boys and girls comfortably, so they can learn and be challenged without worrying about safety. Although this is just one story, of one client – this is the story of millions of girls attending schools in developing countries. Having to decide between education and safety or cleanliness based on something as simple as our biology should not be a decision girls in the 21st century have to make.
At Opportunity our vision is a world in which all people have the opportunity to achieve a life free from poverty, with dignity and purpose. Girls and boys need access to a quality education, which will offer them the greatest potential to break free from multi-generational trends of debilitating poverty common in under-resourced countries, but several factors often keep children from completing their schooling. These factors include the distance students must travel to and from school, the cost of education (uniforms, learning materials, and meals, if not tuition), the security and safety of the school environment, and the quality and engagement of teachers. Unsafe school facilities are a significant determining factor in a parent’s decision regarding where to send their children.
School Improvement Loans from Opportunity EduFinance provide loans to improve the pain points indicated by parents, helping educators increase enrollment and facility infrastructure. From research earlier this year we found that 22% of School Improvement loans in Rwanda and Uganda go towards WASH facilities, the 4th most improved area by school managers and administrators.
At Opportunity International we build sustainable approaches to poverty alleviation by relentlessly pursuing new solutions and most importantly, by measuring our history of impact. Through in-depth investigations into the behaviors of our customers, we can better understand their needs and design products that meet them. We know everything changes for our clients once they receive an opportunity, as we continue to help more women like Sarah change the lives of girls and boys through EduFinance loans.
For further information on Opportunity's research into the benefits of School Improvement Loans click here.