Educating girls is paramount to alleviating poverty in the developing worlds. A Girl & her world co-founder Jane Kennedy attended Symes Group's International Womens' Day event in 2017 to speak about her journey, her work and quest to enlist more support. Symes Group is a supporter for a Girl & her world and is inspired by the women behind it. Barbara Harvey finds out how a small group of committed, talented and passionate women are playing their part in global social impact.
BH: How did a girl & her world begin?
JK: It started in response to the need of a friend who was trying to figure out how to get her teenage girl to high school five years ago. We talked about the barriers to girls getting to school and staying there in rural Fiji and what we could do to help overcome these barriers. Global research shows that educating girls unlocks all sorts of great outcomes and breaks poverty cycles. That’s what pulls me into this work. It’s not a handout. It can be transformative. We have seen girls finish school – the first females in their families ever to do so – many of them with outstanding grades that go on to win them scholarships to university. We also provide income-generating projects for the girls’ mums, enabling them to become financially self-sufficient and in time, take back their daughters’ education expenses with dignity.
BH: How do you manage the challenge of working across both countries?
JK: The answer is always local when working overseas. We are continually guided by our coordinator, Urmila, and her knowledge and experience of the local context and the right ways to proceed. We raise the funds and write the policies and procedures (two of us work in the international development field) and create a supportive community and raise awareness. Urmila and the local team do the real work. We don’t come with a set of assumptions or with our capes and trumpets hoping to save the day. Local people always know the solutions to their own problems and inevitably outside solutions can mess things up. We have ideas and we know Fiji and how other organisations work there, but we have learned to listen and learn and respond.
BH: What have been the highlights so far for the organisation? And what have been some of the harder moments?
JK: The highlights for us are always the stories of change at the grass roots but also the willingness and generosity of people at home in supporting the work. We were blown away by the way people gave after the cyclone this year. Our community in Fiji was significantly affected and many still remain without adequate housing. Many were badly injured.
We have been able to rebuild Urmila’s home and support other families to get back on their feet. In the days that followed the cyclone when help had not yet reached them, we were able to send money to people a few hours away who purchased food, water, medicines, first aid supplies and torches for some of the families we work with who were sheltering in evacuation centres.
We were also able to mobilise volunteers to go and assess our families quickly and even attracted a gorgeous English photographer who was travelling in New Zealand, she traveled over and captured some beautiful images. These connections are always very humbling. We had our hearts in our throats for days after the cyclone not knowing how people were, this was a distressing time and brought home that our Fiji community is home for us on so many levels, we are family now.
BH: What keeps you motivated and committed?
JK: The stories of change. The women and girls who show us their resilience against breathtaking odds. The joy and gratitude that comes from the families. The grit and commitment and determination of Urmila and her super supportive family who have been through so much this year. None of this would be possible without them.
BH: How can people support a Girl and her world?
JK: Get to know us and see what resonates! Some people are generous monthly givers, others support us at Christmas time, others offer skills, talent and time, others like Rotary invite us to speak and sell raffle tickets for us. School students do presentations on educating girls and then hold cake stalls. We always ask people how they would most enjoy getting involved as that’s what always brings the best out of them and serves both our Fiji community and our supporters.
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