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Dowries to degrees: An education for Ethiopia's young women

Ethiopia, March 8, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    From a young age, girls in Ethiopia are expected to gather wood, fetch water and shop for the family’s food. It can take all day to collect enough food and water for one meal, so there is often no time for school. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Traditionally, girls were kept at home to be married off at a younger age, when they could command a higher dowry. Since dowries were outlawed in Ethiopia in 2005, more families are starting to see the worth of keeping their daughters in school. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    In Ethiopia’s public education system, families must pay for school fees, books, uniforms and supplies — costs that are prohibitive for the poorest families. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps’ scholarships cover fees and mentoring for 140 girls at Gidole and Konso high schools, which each draw students from long distances. Although many girls are still expected to help at home before and after classes, they no longer have to work additional jobs to pay for school. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Getahun, 19, used to make beer and sell it in her village to cover school fees. “My family could not send me to school,” she says. Now that she has a scholarship, “I don’t feel like a burden anymore.” Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Local village counsels select which girls receive scholarships based on the family’s financial need and their potential to commit to her education. The selection process happens every year. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Eighteen-year-old Mihiret wants to become a doctor. She’s motivated to do well in school to someday support herself and her mother financially, because her father abandoned them. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Like most of her classmates, 17-year-old Soka, left, walks over two hours each way to school. Teachers hope to add dormitories for girls to spend more time at school, or at least to provide buses or bicycles to make the trip easier over the rough rural terrain. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Roza loves physics and biology and longs to go to nursing school after graduation. Most students dream of continuing on to vocational school or university — but often wonder how they will pay for it. The eighteen-year-old says her family will try to send her if her grades are good enough. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Women in Ethiopia have always been highly respected for their role running the household. Konso High School Principal Gurasho Lemita says that’s expanding: “People in the villages now value the education of girls.” Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Students are encouraged to teach their mothers and grandmothers how to read and write. Many girls share lessons during traditional coffee ceremonies, or bunas, a community tradition of sharing the ritual preparation and drinking of coffee. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mahtem, 17, second from right, did not think she could afford school after her parents died. Her scholarship means she can focus on classes rather than work. She says she loves learning and can’t wait to share it with her younger sister and more women in her village. "I know I can help other people see the value of education." Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps

Seven in 10 girls in Ethiopia do not attend secondary school, depriving them of the many benefits of education: later marriage, healthier children, higher wages, stronger communities, and more prosperous countries.

Mercy Corps is helping girls in one of Ethiopia’s most remote regions explore a future full of new possibilities by providing them with scholarships and academic support to complete secondary school.

Explore the impact of this program beyond the school day on Global Envision, Mercy Corps' sister blog that explores market-driven solutions to poverty.


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From our series: A Woman’s Worth