Shimmer on a Cloudy Day: Reflections on IIE’s HER Program

“I sometimes was in doubt if I could realize my dreams but because of the support from the HER program there is no doubt for me now. I’m equipped with what I need to face the challenge I might face as a woman.” – HER Graduate

The month of July is a rainy one for Ethiopia. For IIE and the graduates of the Higher Education Readiness (HER) program, however, the 28th of July stands out as a bright and remarkable day where we got together to celebrate 100 girls who successfully graduated from high school and the HER program. These graduates come from underserved communities and families, and the HER program assisted them with a pathway to university and a hope for their future.

On their graduation day, we wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of the HER girls and provide a forum for other organizations to see the program’s impact on beneficiaries. It was also our desire to create a networking opportunity for stakeholders who are working on girls’ education in particular and education in general. Representatives from government offices, international and local NGOs, UN agencies and others attended the graduation ceremony and left with excitement—some even thinking about how to join hands with us in this precious work of changing lives for the better.

For those who weren’t there, the day was simply magnificent! The testimonies given by the graduates left everyone in the room with wet eyes.

“I saw my mom crying with joy sitting by the corner,” a HER student said through tears, “and I know the sacrifice she pays to raise me and my siblings. Had I not been awarded with this support from IIE, what would have happened to me, I could not imagine!” Her friend followed her, and then another and then another. Both the girls’ tears and words reflected their gratitude for the program. Some said HER gave them the space and platform to think about their future, equipped them with different tools and skills that they will use for life, and that it opened up their mind to think beyond themselves and made them a responsible person. One of them said she now knows what it means to dream big. she envisions becoming a dentist, another dreams of becoming an agriculturalist and a third hopes to become an artist. Another graduate shared her experience during a university visit through the HER program. She said, “I remembered during the visit, one of my friends was overjoyed to step into the university compound and said to me with passion, ‘I gotta go home and study hard!’” She said the program gave them the desire to aspire for something more and better.

Parents also had the opportunity to share their reflections about the program. There was a father of one graduate who couldn’t even speak because he was so overwhelmed by tears of joy. He and a mother of a graduate, who also had the chance to speak from the podium, thanked IIE and the program, saying that IIE is like a second family for the girls. They admired the capacity building and educational support the girls received from the program in addition to the financial support. The father said, “my daughter is not only doing well in her academic performance but I have seen a change in her behavior. She has become more responsible and supportive of her family.” The parents also didn’t forget to reflect on how the program really alleviated and shared the economic burden of the family, and how grateful they are for trainings facilitated for the families of the graduates as well.

A mentor was also given the chance to reflect on her experience mentoring these girls and she said the learning went both ways She encouraged the graduates to pay the favor forward.

The day concluded with awarding certificates to the graduates and thanking volunteers, individuals and organizations who contributed to the success of the program. Our partner, the Golden Tulip Hotel, surprised us all with a huge congratulatory cake that added to making the day what it was, memorable! Indeed, July hasn’t been gloomy for us this year.