Cooking for hours on end, hand washing clothes and finding a suitable husband are all normal everyday worries for many girls living in Ethiopia. That and the discrimination they face in their own communities with regards to their education. “Educating girls isn’t valued over there,” Cabrini senior elementary education major Brenna Bangs said.
Over the summer Bangs was in Ethiopia visiting villages where girls learn to live with these poor standards. The Nike Foundation starting in 2005 has pledged time, money, resources and people to improving the lives of the neediest girls in the world. Foundations in Ethiopia, Egypt, Zambia, Bangladesh, Brazil, and China have all been set up through Nike Inc. to empower girls throughout the world. Brenna Bangs was part of a nine-week internship program with Catholic Relief Services in Addis Ababa where she stayed with a host family. Bangs worked in the CRS office but was also able to do field work and interview adolescent girls ages 10-19 to find out what struggles they face.
“Many times it takes almost all day to prepare a meal because of the limited technology, so girls are expected by their parents to stay home. Many times it is a brother who signs them up for school and many times ‘good attendance’ means getting to school two or three days a week. Early marriage is encouraged in many villages and many of the girls are wives and mothers at a very young age,” Bangs said
Bangs’ experience was unique and impacted her and others in ways that the internship program based out of Cabrini’s Wolfington center could hardly anticipated. She was able to work with girls and the communities in these villages where women are rarely thought of when it comes to education. “Their education is very poor outside of the city because of their intense workload in the home, and the value put on education by the community is very low. Some parents wouldn’t allow the girls to go to school because it was much more important to learn how to cook and clean,” Bangs said.
“Boys harass the girls when they are going through menstruation because they don’t really know what it is, so they assume the girls are doing something wrong with their bodies. Sometimes the children had their restrooms in the same building, which caused further harassment of the girls,” Bangs said. Bangs anticipates changes in this discrimination against the girls, “The people at Catholic Relief Services will not stop until the value of girls becoming educated is higher.”
Cabrini has been at the forefront of developing a relationship between CRS and their efforts to get students involved. “One of my most enjoyable roles here at Cabrini is that I am the liaison between Cabrini and CRS. They help in over 100 countries worldwide and Cabrini was one of just four colleges to begin a partnership with them,” Dr. Mary Laver said. Laver is the director of programs for applied Catholic social teaching at Cabrini. “We send students who are qualified and flexible to go overseas for the summer,” Laver said.
Nike and CRS have made improvements in the regions especially in the north (Tigre region) where Nike has started tutorial classes so that girls can go and study regardless of their free time. However in the south a lot of schools only go up to the fourth grade and early marriage is encouraged. “It is hard to change an entire community’s priorities especially in the south where the schools are not equipped and the teachers are not prepared to hold the tutorial classes necessary to inform the communities about the girls education,” Bangs said.
“It wasn’t something I ever thought I would do and you need to be flexible and ready to work on a project that can change at any time, but it was an amazing experience and I would recommend it to other students. I loved going to the villages and seeing the kids. It was like something you see on TV and it’s hard to comprehend that it is you that is actually there,” Bangs said.