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Najat Hamza, For Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, July 16/2019 – Girls Education is Key to transform society in a tangible way. It is not a hidden fact that Ethiopia is the second populous county on the continent with population over 100 million (UNESCO, 2018). According to Global Partnership for Education Ethiopia has one of the highest drop-out rates in the world and girls are disproportionally affected. Global Partnership for education reports exponential growth in education in the last decade alone with enrollment number of 25 million to just 10 million a decade ago. However, girls make a significantly less percentage of these numbers. There are a lot of statistics that show the disparity in education for girls in Ethiopia due to multiple factors. The overall education system in Ethiopia need additional resources, better access for rural children and school buildings.

I cannot fix the entire system, it would be a dream if I could. The creation of Saniya Foundation is aimed at focusing on girl’s education and removing the barriers they face to attain an education and unlock their potentials in Ethiopia. Saniya Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in Minnesota this year. Its mission is to provide accessibility to education, provide platform for leadership and empowerment for women and girls in Ethiopia. This organization is named after one of the bravest and strongest women I know, my mother. She was born and raised in Carcar, Hararge. She moved to Dire Dawa shortly after she got marriage.


A group of girls walking to school in Wabi town, west Arsi zone of Oromia regional state

She was the palm tree in the storm, bending with tides to keep our family safe. I left my mother in 1998 when we left the country to our neighboring country, Kenya. I was not excited about the trip, I did not fully understand the gravity of the situation. Our family was broken into two. The younger once stayed with her in Ethiopia while we fled with my father. I never really saw her as she was with full health since that fateful day, and today she is with her creator. I never got over the fact that she passed away in our absence. This project is a way to bring our family healing and to spread her sense of hope, generosity and service. My mother gave me a toolkit to survive and even thrive in this chaotic world without her presence across the ocean and I know my sibling will each attest to this fact as well.  I carry her wisdom, bravery and determination in the face of adversity and never give up on anything I set my eyes to. This organization will be her legacy and I will work tirelessly to reflect those values she lived with and taught to us and others throughout her life. She was passionate about education and I wanted to honor her in making a difference in education in Ethiopia, a country which has made a great stride towards education in the last two decades. But there are still long ways to go when it comes to girls’ education, especially those in remote areas of the country.

The number one factor affecting the attainment of education in Ethiopia is Poverty. The other factors are societal and cultural factors as well as norms and traditional practices that hinder the progression of education for girls. Girls and women face many societal, cultural and traditional barriers. These barriers are not permanent roadblocks if we work to eliminate them by providing girls and women the opportunities they deserve. Educating women and girls benefits society immensely.

To this end, Saniya Foundation has identified six program areas; Education, Economic independent, Leadership and empowerment, Daraaraa Project, Art and literature and mentorship to provide girls who live in rural areas with supportive services. There are various organizations like us already active in various parts of Ethiopia. The gender disparity in education, leadership, financial security for women is a huge and it needs every initiative currently active as well as young organizations to make a meaningful dent in it.

Saniya Foundation will provide a wraparound service to the girls that will enroll in our programs. We will stay with our girls until they can be self-sufficient. Our program areas are specifically geared towards removing barriers for each individual girl so that she could stay in school and fulfill her potential. our program is self-explanatory except for the “Daraaraa Project.” The Daraaraa project is a specific program that will be providing school girls with sanitary pads quarterly, teaching girls and women how to better care for themselves and provide reproductive education. The lack of sanitary pads often can lead to girls missing school or worse dropping out due to repeated tardiness. We will provide an ongoing supply of sanitary pads so that girls would not missing classes for the lack of it.  Daraaraa project will also create culturally appropriate platforms and safe space where girls can learn about their bodies.

The other piece of Saniya Foundation is addressing women who are already out of school and have family. These women usually rear children and have no means of getting education or a way to earn a living. We want to provide technical skills, trade, family farming or any number of activities that can help these women earn a living. A woman who can fend for herself is an empowered woman, an empowered woman transforms her communities in a way nothing could. If they choose to pursue their education they will have an income and a skill to help themselves to get through school.  Saniya Foundation wants to tackle the issues of girl’s education form both sides of the spectra. That is, to help girls stay in school and provide women the skills to earn a living in their communities.

Saniya Foundation is young and resources are small currently, but my vision for the outcome I want to achieve is my driving force right now. I understand what education can do for a girl. I was privileged enough to grow up in Dire Dawa where early days of my education at Abdir Elementary school ignited my love of learning.  As a refugee in United States, I did not struggle in school due to the quality education I have received growing up. I understand what it means to fight for gender equality growing up. We had to fight to play soccer or any other male branded sports in those years. I also know how limiting that could be to a girl who simply wants to be free and is able to pursue any dream she wants to. I want to give girls the same if not better opportunities I was privileged to have.

The United Nations Girls Education Initiative estimates that over 131 million girls worldwide are out of school right now, and that is a disadvantage to the world. The guiding principle of Saniya Foundation is a drop in the bucket of this huge see of girls being denied their education around the world for various reasons. But, I believe in the power of one. If we can educate one girl, that is one girl less than what was. Saniya Foundation will start by identifying areas where the disparity is the greatest and work our way up.

I want to imagine a world where each of these amazing potentials can be unlocked and will start with Ethiopia right alongside many other organizations already making a difference on the ground. We can improve the gender gap in education if we all work together and tackle the problem. It is possible. Saniya Foundation inaugural event will be held in Minnesota, on August 9th, 2019. Soon, Saniya Foundation will bring its project to Ethiopia and start working on phase one of the project, which is data collection and identifying areas that could benefit from our programs the best. AS

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 Editor’s Note: Najat Hamza is CEO & Founder of Saniya Foundation www.saniyafoundation.org.  She can be found at nhamza@saniyafoundation.org

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