As many as 67 percent of girls in the developing world don’t attend secondary school. She’s the First is looking to change that through sponsorship and campuses set up in low-income countries geared towards helping girls be the first in their families to finish school.
Focusing on girls’ education isn’t meant to take funding away from young boys. Research shows that educating girls can have major effects on the economic and social future of developing nations. Educated girls delay marriage and childbirth, which in turn decreases the maternal and infant mortality rates. Increasing girls’ education by just two years increases a country’s GDP by 10 to 20 percent and girls who finish school earn 18 percent more in future wages. Education and economic independence makes women less likely to experience domestic and sexual violence and more likely to educate their own children.
She’s the First works in 10 countries with 125 chapters serving 486 scholars, or sponsored girls. They have chapters across North America at high schools and colleges, reaching 1.3 million young women to support educational opportunities for girls in impoverished counties.
Using social media and creative fundraising projects, She’s the First harnesses the power of women and girls in the United States to raise money and support for young girls around the world, reminding them that in much the way that students in the United States strive to be the first college graduates in their families, less-fortunate girls struggle for the rights and funds to learn to read and use a computer.
She’s the First partners with existing school programs like Shanti Bhavan, a residential boarding school for boys and girls in southeast India. One of their students, Maheshwari, was featured in a short documentary produced by She’s the First in 2012.
Maheshwari comes from a family of quarry workers in rural India. Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother to care for her and her siblings. With no education, Maheshwari’s mother had no chocie but to become a quarry worker herself to support her children. While breaking rocks in the quarry, she learned about the Shanti Bhavan school and decided to send Maheshwari there. Of all of her siblings, she is the only one to attend school. While there, she experienced gender equality with the male students, eating, playing and learning alongside them and prepared for a career beyond the quarry.
“I feel my fate will be very different from my siblings possibly because I have an education and because of this education, I feel I will be able to actually go against my family’s decisions if it’s wrong,” she said. “I can actually fight back for myself.”
Maheshwari intends to choose her own husband and career, luxuries that her mother did not have.
“I want to achieve something really great, I want to come home and show my mom that this is what it has done,” she said.
Speaking at her graduation ceremony, Dr. Abraham George, founder of Shanti Bhavan, encouraged the students to use their educations to improve their entire community and break the cycle of poverty.
After receiving her graduation certificate, Maheshwari went on to college to study biotechnology and genetics.
Dr. George said of her, “She made up her own mind that now she has to do well to look after her mother and her siblings.”