Happy International Women’s Day: Our Commitment to #InspireInclusion

Happy International Women’s Day from our team at Classroom of Hope!

As the world takes this day to commemorate women and ask critical questions about equality, empowerment, inclusion, we want to take a minute to celebrate the incredible women leading the charge at Classroom of Hope – and the amazing work this team does every day to promote gender equality and #InspireInclusion as a key part of our mission!

Read on for thoughts and quotes from our CEO Tanya Armstrong, our Co-Founder and Creative Director Nicola Courtin, and our Lombok Program Manager Rachael Conroy, as they reflect on the work that Classroom of Hope has done over the past 12 years, and how we plan to expand our impact and continue to provide access to quality education and equal opportunities for ALL kids.

Education: Our Mightiest Tool for Change

At Classroom of Hope (CoH), we believe that education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world. For over a decade, our mission has centered on breaking down barriers to education for children around the globe, with a steadfast commitment to gender equality and inclusion.

With UNESCO reporting an alarming 244 million children and youth out of school, the need for action has never been more urgent. The gender gap in that number is even more striking – less than half of the world’s countries have gender parity in primary and lower secondary education… and that number falls to 24% (less than ¼ of countries) when looking at upper secondary education.1

That gender gap in education not only limits individual potential but also hinders societal progress. 

Educating girls leads to various benefits, including higher wages, lower maternal and infant mortality rates, and improved family health—outcomes that uplift entire communities and drive sustainable development!

“Providing access to education for girls and women brings benefits at a personal and community level that extend to a much broader global impact. Being educated allows women to make more informed decisions about their lives and health, to gain better-paid employment, and to better manage a household. This, in turn, helps break cycles of poverty and benefits future generations as women pass their knowledge and skills onto their children.”

A Decade of Impact: CoH Initiatives Addressing the Gender Gap

As Co-Founder of Classroom of Hope, Nicola Courtin has been with the organisation since the very beginning in 2012, and knows better than most the challenges we’ve faced in promoting equal access to education for boys & girls in some of the regions we’ve worked in.

Q: Since Classroom of Hope began, how have we witnessed and worked to address gender gaps in education, employment, and opportunities in our programs and projects?

Promoting gender equality has absolutely been a focus for our organisation over the years. We’ve witnessed firsthand how, in rural areas, families living in poverty will often prioritise educating boys over girls when resources are limited.”

“To address this disparity, we implemented a scholarship program in the communities where we’ve built schools in Cambodia. Through this program, we have provided scholarships to over a thousand children, offering essentials like books, pens/pencils, backpacks, shoes, uniforms, and sometimes bicycles (especially for those living farther from school), along with food rations.”

“Additionally, for several years, we ran our STEM4Women program, offering tertiary scholarships to young women from Cambodia to pursue studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). This program helped me to see the truth behind the quote, “when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” All the recipients of these scholarships not only completed their tertiary education but also secured good, well-paying jobs afterward. Many of them chose to extend this impact beyond themselves. They used their opportunities to support their families and even fund their younger siblings’ education.”

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"Witnessing these women recognise and capitalise on the transformative power of education was immensely inspiring. It reinforced the profound ripple effect that empowering women through education can have, not just on individual lives but on entire communities and future generations.”

Looking Forward: Empowering Girls and Women in Lombok

Over the past couple of years, Classroom of Hope’s mission has evolved to focus primarily on the Block Schools that we’re building in Lombok, Indonesia. As our on-the-ground Program Manager in Lombok, Rachael Conroy offers invaluable insights into the local community’s needs and challenges, and has been an integral part of Classroom of Hope’s recent initiatives to expand and deepen our impact on children living in the communities around our newly built Block Schools!

Q: You spend a lot of time on the ground in Lombok, consulting with the communities that we work with. From your perspective and experience, what are the most significant barriers to education for girls in Lombok, and and how are these being addressed?

“There are multiple barriers to girls’ education here, including financial hardship, a lack of family support to attend school, and the prioritising of domestic responsibilities for girls.

“Another barrier – and one of the most significant – is the prevalence of childhood marriage (under 18 years old). Childhood marriage often results in reduced education levels, as teenagers who get married are required to leave school, and these marriages are often followed closely by the birth of a child. Additionally, early marriage often results in reduced levels of work skills and independence for girls, as well as a higher risk of maternal and infant health issues.”

However, there are many incredibly encouraging signs in Lombok of a shift towards greater recognition of the importance of gender equality in education. As Rachael shares with us, there are locally-led community child rights groups in Lombok that are working to prevent childhood marriage by educating people at all levels of the community about child rights and reproductive health, and raising awareness of the disadvantages of marrying early.

Reflecting on her own experience living in these communities over the past 12 years, Rachael confirms that she has “definitely seen a shift towards families supporting girls to continue their schooling into senior high school. While many women in rural communities who are now in their 30s missed out on schooling altogether, it is now generally expected that girls will attend high school.”

Q: Are there any specific stories that you can share about women or girls in CoH’s Block Communities whose lives have been positively impacted by CoH initiatives/programs?

“This question brings to mind a grandmother who approached me at the opening of a newly-built Block School. The Lombok earthquakes had destroyed her granddaughters’ classrooms several years earlier, and they had since been learning in makeshift shelters. When I asked whether she had ever attended school, she said she had never had the opportunity, and was overjoyed that her granddaughters were able to. She was so full of gratitude for the brand new, comfortable classrooms that they would now be attending classes in. Her story highlighted to me how things are gradually changing for girls in Lombok, and how much a new classroom can mean to one person, or one family.”

In September of 2023, Classroom of Hope held a series of community focus groups with local leaders and families of students in Block Schools to explore the potential of introducing extra-curricular programs, including a possible initiative focusing on preventing school dropouts (which are disproportionately prevalent among girls).

Community Consultation September 2023

The response from the community was hugely supportive and overwhelmingly acknowledged the need for such programs, which will begin soon with support from Classroom of Hope under the direction of local leaders, in partnership with the already existing community groups working towards similar goals.

“These Community Enrichment programs are a joint effort between local community leaders and Classroom of Hope. They include initiatives such as Early Marriage Prevention and English Skills, which are designed to address pressing issues like early marriage and provide support to keep adolescent girls in school. Our goal is to empower these young women academically and equip them with the confidence and skills to navigate life’s challenges and pursue their aspirations. With our English Skills program, we aim to equip both boys and girls with the language proficiency needed for meaningful employment, enabling students to become active contributors to their communities and economies.”

(From left to right) Rachael, Nicola, and Tanya signing the MOU for our new Community Enrichment Programs with our Local Representative, Denok!

“Walking the Walk” within Classroom of Hope

At CoH, our efforts towards gender inclusion and equality are deeply woven into both the programs we support and our organisation itself! 

“Celebrating International Women’s Day at CoH is a special occasion – our whole leadership team is made up of women and together we are truly committed to encouraging equality and inclusivity in both our work environment and our organization’s mission!”

With this commitment in mind, we need to remember the big picture and the ongoing challenges that keep us focused and driven to make a difference.

“Days like IWD have changed the conversation and landscape for young women today. I have two young girls myself (as does Nicola) and they would never consider anything other than gender equality and equal opportunity. I think the future is bright for young, educated women. However, in our work in schools and education in developing nations, the gender divide is more evident. This is why we are now looking to expand our programs to include women’s empowerment programs, such as early marriage prevention, keeping teen girls in school and creating pathways to employment through things such as English language programs.

Working Towards a Brighter Future

As we continue our work in Lombok and beyond, Classroom of Hope remains committed to empowering girls and women through education, striving to create a world where gender equality in education is not just an aspiration but a reality. Through our innovative programs and community engagement, we are making strides towards a future where every child, regardless of gender, has access to the education and opportunities they deserve.

This International Women’s Day, we invite you to join us in empowering the next generation of women. Your support can transform lives, break cycles of poverty, and build a more equitable world. Join us today, and be part of the change you wish to see in the world.

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