Empowering Voices and Contributing to HER Impact

Over the past two years I have had the privilege of working on the pilot evaluation of the Higher Education Readiness Program (HER), an IIE initiative that provides secondary school pathways to underprivileged girls in Ethiopia. HER girls continuously inspired me with their hard work and determination to achieve their dreams. Here are some examples:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Samrawit: “My vision is to be an astrophysicist because I have a passion for it. Besides, there is no female astrophysicist in Ethiopia; I want to be the first female astrophysicist in the country.”

Kalkidan: “I want to study economics, change my mother’s life, and learn to play music.”

Haymanot: “I want to become a cardiologist and open an orphanage.”

These stories and many more are the highlights of the achievements of the HER program in the new report HER Initiative to Lead Change: The Power of Education. This report presents the findings of our two-year comparative study of HER students and girls in their schools who did not participate in IIE’s program.

What unites the HER girls?

They are all alumnae of the HER program. Because of the program, these girls are now university students, working toward becoming pilots, astrophysicists, cardiologists, economists, and life-changers for themselves, their mothers and their future children.

How did the program change the HER girls?

  • Academic success. The HER program helped the girls stay in school – their dropout rate was 4 times lower than the national female dropout rate, and in one of the participating schools it was 8 times lower compared to that of girls in the school who were not part of HER. Over 95% of the HER girls graduated from high school and more than 60% matriculated to universities. All these numbers are much higher than the female average in their schools and in Ethiopia.
  • Personal growth. Apart from academics, the HER program had a great impact on the girls’ personal growth and socio-emotional skills. During the two years of evaluation I have been observing the changes in the girls’ responses: from recounting obstacles to seeing opportunities, from desperation to hopefulness.

“I can say that the HER program is everything to me. It changed my feeling of emptiness and makes me a hopeful girl.”

  • Self-confidence. The HER girls have come to realize that they have as much value as boys. One of the girls recounted an exchange between her friend and an invited speaker, a well-known Ethiopian human rights defender. The speaker described women in that “they are human beings.” The girl felt awed and inspired by that response: “What an answer! I think the society has to know this carefully so that they will respect us.” Increased sense of self-value boosted girls’ participation in the classroom and made them feel more courageous in pursuing their dreams.
  • Life skills training. HER girls were introduced to financial literacy, which helped them better manage their stipends and improve their saving and spending habits. Entrepreneurship training allowed one student to sell fruit gelato she made at home and another gathered a small group of HER students to bake bread at home and sell it during lunch time at school.
  • Reproductive health. The HER girls learned about reproductive health, a topic not commonly discussed in their communities. The training was conducted by professional nurses and available to HER participants and other girls in HER schools.

“I believe the reproductive health training will help me like a light for my day to day life. I learnt that there are things which I feel like I know, but when it comes to the reality which I don’t know.”

How did the program change HER families?

The HER program developed dedicated workshops for HER parents and guardians. In these workshops parents and guardians would learn how to support HER girls’ studies and share their concerns and experiences.
As a result of the HER workshops, parents and guardians improved their understanding of the importance of girls’ education. Moreover, over 90% of parents and guardians better understood unique needs of female students and what kinds of support they need from their families. Increased understanding was already translated into practice during the program: HER girls felt much more family support in the educational pursuits because of the program.

What else can I learn about the outcomes of HER?

The report HER Initiative to Lead Change: The Power of Education is now available for download. Take the time to read about this unique program and how IIE is making a difference in Ethiopia, affecting the lives of the next generation of women and contributing to their academic and personal success. The power of education is part of IIE’s mission, and this program shows how a singular program like HER can have impacts that go well beyond the student. This program has empowered and transformed the schools and communities from which the HER girls came, and continues to have an impact long after they graduate.