This Pan-African NGO Aims To Educate 5 Million Girls By 2030

An African teacher helps a classroom full of students.

“We’ve all heard the story about girls’ education. It goes like this,” Angeline Murimirwa started her 2023 TED Talk. “To end poverty, educate a girl. To tackle climate change, educate a girl. To solve the health crisis, educate a girl. It seems like girls’ education is the closest thing we have to an actual silver bullet.”

Murimirwa is the CEO of CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), an organization serving girls and young women in impoverished areas in rural Africa.

“There’s just one problem,” she continued. “When you send a girl to school without radically reshaping the support structures around her, you’re just putting a diploma in her hand — if she gets that far — and slotting her right back into a world of poverty and inequality.”

CAMFED is the organization that does the radical reshaping.

It starts with a model that gives young women a comprehensive support system, including financial and material support, as well as holistic coaching — right in their school communities. CAMFED then enables the transition into work opportunities, through mentorship and a robust alumni network: the CAMFED Association (CAMA). 

A Black woman in a blue shirt and black pants speaks on stage.
Murimirwa speaks at TED2023: Possibility. Photo courtesy of Jasmina Tomic/TED

Murimirwa knows firsthand that girls living in poverty need more than a seat in front of a blackboard — that this network of support is vital to ongoing success. 

She attended secondary school in Zimbabwe thanks to CAMFED, and when she graduated in 1998, she became a founding member and the first elected Chair of CAMA. 

“I was one of the first girls supported through school by CAMFED, and, at that time, there was no sisterhood of young women graduates forging the way ahead of us,” Murimirwa told Good Good Good. “Together with 400 others, I co-founded the CAMFED Association after we experienced the feeling of graduating into an ‘abyss.’”

Although Murimirwa just recently took on her CEO role at CAMFED in January 2023, she’s been building the organization relentlessly since she graduated 25 years ago. These days, the CAMA now has over 250,000 members. 

An African teacher helps a classroom full of students.
CAMFED provides financial and material support — as well as lifelong coaching and mentoring — to girls in impoverished areas of Africa. Photo courtesy of Aida Kalolo/CAMFED

“Rather than despair about the uncertainty the future held, we resolved to support each other to find jobs and opportunities, as well as doing what we could to support the girls still coming through school,” she said. “I know that my sisters will show up for me no matter what.”

Part of the magic of CAMFED, she said, is that 30 percent of its staff is made of former clients who have been educated and uplifted through the organization’s programming. 

“I stand alongside incredible individuals, all of whom have dedicated their lives to lifting others as they rise.” 

CAMFED and the Audacious Project

CAMFED has a storied history, funding the education of over 1.6 million girls in secondary schools alone across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Malawi. CAMFED’s 7,000 government-partnered schools show staggering results.

The CAMFED model has led to a sharp increase in school progression and completion for girls, with rates three times higher than comparison schools. Plus, 95 percent of students reported boosted self esteem, as well as delays in the age at which they marry and have children.

But — Murimirwa knows the blueprint created by CAMFED and CAMA must be replicated to sustainably educate more and more young women across the continent. 

Three African women stand beside each other, smiling. Their right fists are raised in the air.
CAMA has a multiplier effect, as each member supports the education of three more girls. Photo courtesy of Anke Adams/CAMFED

Luckily, CAMFED’s work is being supported by The Audacious Project, TED’s collaborative funding enterprise that helps launch bold solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges.

With the help of this grant funding, CAMFED will be able to execute its strategic plan — Vision 2030 — which will enable more girls to complete secondary school and transition to livelihoods and leadership. 

Murimirwa outlined the goals of this strategic plan, and the monumental funding from The Audacious Project, which will ultimately lead to the educational success of 5 million girls across Africa.  

  • Implementing a comprehensive financial and social support system targeted at the most marginalized girls, bolstered by support of CAMA volunteer “Learner Guides.”
  • Enabling graduates to transition to secure livelihoods and leadership through invitation to CAMA. Many existing Association members are trained as Transition Guides, Business Guides, and Agriculture Guides to help build networks of mentorship. Each CAMA “sister” supports another three girls’ education. 
  • Partnering with governments to embed “what works” in national school systems, ensuring that all the needs of girls are met.
A group of African women in bright clothes smile while they dance
CAMA members have gone on to work in leadership roles worldwide. Photo courtesy of CAMFED

While much of these initiatives have been the bedrock of CAMFED since 1993, it’s more vital than ever that this work is accelerated, Murimirwa said, as pressing matters of climate change and global health both impact and rely on girls’ education.

“The disruption to schooling caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities in education access and success, especially for the most marginalized girls,” she said. “And climate change is threatening livelihoods across our partner communities. So, our work, including in climate education, couldn’t be more important.”

Why is this good news?

CAMFED’s track record of success over the past three decades makes the organization the perfect candidate for Audacious Project funding — and has the potential to not only level the playing field for women in Africa, but also to introduce solutions to issues like climate change and health crises.

Of the quarter of a million members in CAMA, 68,000 leaders belong to decision-making bodies, allowing for a ripple effect of mentorship, as well as a tangible shift in gender norms across their communities. 

Murimirwa names just a handful of those women leaders. 

There’s Fiona Mavhinga, who became the first lawyer in the CAMA sisterhood and has been joined by thousands of others, fighting for the end of child marriage and the investment in gender equality

Then, there’s Primrose Mandishona, who uses her lived experience with a disability and her expertise in rehabilitation, to mentor other future healthcare professionals and serve as CAMFED Zimbabwe's Special Education Needs and Disability Officer. 

And lastly, there’s Lucia Punungwe, who was inspired by her experiences with CAMFED to become a math teacher at the school she herself attended, mentoring hundreds of other women joining the teaching profession in the region.

Lucia Punungwe works as a math teacher and helps advance girls' education. Photo courtesy of Cynthia R. Matonhodze/CAMFED

Through this enormous sisterhood, strategic programming, and ongoing partnerships forged through CAMFED, the organization takes the fundamental principles of community care and multiplies them rapidly to reach as many young women as possible. 

“Having built a movement of women leaders with deep expertise, … having created a blueprint, youth-led model that provides social support and mentorship, … having gained global recognition for our model — because it’s one of partnership and accountability — means that we can overcome the toughest challenges and really change the systems that are stacked against rural girls,” Murimirwa said. 

Murimirwa is hopeful and energized by the future of CAMFED, thanks to support from The Audacious Project. Photo courtesy of CAMFED

While the work is ongoing (and, at times, overwhelming), Murimirwa feels energized by the boundless support of both the Audacious Project and her fellow sisterhood of CAMA members (one of which has even been her go-to dressmaker for speaking events!). 

“Believe me when I tell you that girls’ education is the silver bullet,” Murimirwa concluded at the end of her TED Talk, “But only if you do it right.”

Article Details

May 31, 2023 12:02 PM
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