Girls Education Organization raises $4,400 to send Rwandan girls to school

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The Girls Education Organization raised $4,400 to send 30 girls in Rwanda to school for a year. The club is partnered with Young Women Empowered in Rwanda. GEO was created by art history teacher Melinda Darrow and ’18 grads Ivani Patel and Mallory Barndollar in 2017. Darrow got the inspiration to start the club after she attended a dinner in San Antonio. There, she met women who had come from different countries in Africa on a state department visit to talk about rights for women and third world countries.

“They were talking about girls not finishing their education, girls not going on to college, not getting careers, not getting leadership positions,” Darrow said. “They just drop out, they get married young and they don’t get to contribute.”

One of the women was Donatha Gihana, a headmistress of a school in Rwanda and the founder of YWE. She explained how girls were unable to have a steady education because of their period.

“They don’t go to school for a whole week every month,” Darrow said. “Their parents were like, ‘We’re not gonna pay for [sanitary supplies].’”

After the dinner in San Antonio, Darrow returned to Westlake and talked to Patel and Barndollar, ultimately forming GEO. Together, they began skyping with Gihana and sending supplies to Rwanda. After learning about a lack of underwear and sanitary supplies, they began an underwear drive and sent materials to make pads.

“We started collecting gauze and plastic and cotton,” Darrow said. “We sent over thread and thimbles and all the materials, so that they could make pads. A lot of what our girls provide for their girls [are notes] like, ‘You’re important’ and ‘Girls are powerful.’”

Eventually, banana plants opened in a neighboring country, supplying Rwandan girls with the tools to make their own pads from banana stalk. Because of this development, GEO switched their focus to helping Rwandan girls achieve literacy in English.

“Girls want to learn English so that they can move on, because their parents don’t really value their education as much as they do the boys,” Darrow said.

The organization began a book drive, gathering books from librarians in the district to send to YWE. They also began to raise money to pay for the $150 tuition for 30 Rwandan girls. The president of the club, senior Grace Kerindi, took charge of the sponsorship program.

“I was in charge of finding girls at Westlake to sponsor the 30 girls in Rwanda,” Kerindi said. “So I kind of coordinated that, and then I worked a lot with Mrs. Darrow.”

To reach the amount needed to send all 30 girls to school, club members contributed their own money. To cover the rest of the cost, the organization reached out to businesses for help.

“We had about 20-something girls participating in the sponsorship program,” Kerindi said. “We did t-shirt sales last year and the rest of that money we got from a deal with Altar’d State in the mall. Ten percent of their proceeds every Monday would go to our organization for a month. That set us over the amount that we needed.”

Now that the group has raised the $4,400 necessary to cover the tuition costs, they are waiting to hear back from Donatha.

“It’s a big procedure because we can’t just write a cashier’s check and mail it, you know, it’s not safe,” Darrow said. “One time, when we sent a shipment of sanitary supplies it got held up in customs because plastic is banned there. It’s kind of like how Austin has a plastic bag ban. They would not allow Donatha to pick up the materials, unless you paid $100, and she didn’t have that. We were really conscious of what the best way was to get her this money. We got her bank account, and we went through central office to wire the money. They just did that at the end of last week. We’re waiting for confirmation that she actually has the money and that the girls are set.”

While the girls in GEO and the girls in Rwanda have had limited contact, Gihana does send occasional photos to show the impact the club has had on the school girls’ lives.

“I really liked getting the pictures of the girls because that made it feel real to me,” Kerindi said. “I think opening up my email and seeing the pictures of the 30 little girls over there and realizing that we were actually helping them by sending them to school was really cool.”

GEO hopes to keep helping the girls in Rwanda and adapt to their changing needs.

“We hope to continue this for years to come,” Darrow said. “As you know, kids here graduate, and so then we have a new crop of students who kind of take it over. But, the kids coming up who hear about it and know the impact and want to think globally and look beyond Westlake and our global community are drawn to it. We hope to continue increasing membership, increasing involvement, and making a difference.”

For more information about GEO and their mission, visit thegeofoundation.weebly.com or check out their instagram @girls.education.organization.

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