Fifteen is a magical age – in Mexico it is the time of quinceañeras and celebration as girls teeter on the brink of womanhood. It is also the age of high teen pregnancy rates – especially in lower income areas. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report, Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy (Maternidad en la niñez) revealed that Mexico is the leading nation in teen pregnancies, with the alarming rate of 64.2 teen pregnancies per thousand births. Generally speaking, teen pregnancies are associated with poorer living conditions and girls receiving lower levels of education. Girls with a higher education level, with a dream for the future and with a hope of success, are much less likely to get pregnant.
A few years ago I met Johanne Lalonde in one of my cooking classes. In my classes I talk a great deal about the magic of the tiny village where I live- just 25 minutes from a world-class resort area but a world away- with no telephones, internet and many households still cooking on open fire, growing their own corn and maintaining an incredible amount of self-sufficient living. The village has a kindergarten, an elementary school and a secondary school (grades 7, 8 and 9)- making it possible for children to be educated within the village until that magical age of 15.
I started to notice that while some girls continued studying to high school even though their families now had to cover transportation costs to attend the high school in a neighboring village, many did not. Many got pregnant.
While some studies point to the lack of contraceptive education or acceptance with regards to teen pregnancy. I firmly believe that education, visualization and hope of a future are much bigger factors. Young women and girls need to proactively choose their future.
From this idea, Johanne and I started a program we named Sigue Estudiando (Keep Studying) with the goal of keeping girls in school. One girl from each grade in secondary school would receive a scholarship towards her future educational needs.
In its work on girls’ education and gender equality, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has concluded that educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.’
When we support girls education, we are not only supporting the individuals but helping communities to break the cycle of poverty. We are in the second year of the program and currently have 6 scholarship recipients.
While it is early to track the success of such a program, I have no doubt that it is having a positive effect. I asked last year’s recipients to write a letter to Johanne and I was very moved when one of the young women succinctly wrote that the biggest gift, more so than the money, was the knowledge and encouragement that came from knowing someone was caring for their education.
If you are interested in helping or getting involved please contact me through The Eye.
We are now trying to get laptops for this year’s recipients – if you would like to donate one or have a gently used one that you don’t need please let me know.