Give Fijian women and girls the gift of ‘getting back to school’

Australians are being invited to partner with Fijian women and girls this Christmas by giving them the gift of “getting back to school”.

“There are 40 Fijian girls who need their additional schooling costs covered if they are to return to education in 2020, along with the Fijian young women who need their additional university costs met,” explains the coordinator of A Girl and her world, Jane Kennedy.

A Girl and her world is a not-for-profit organisation that supports girls in the Pacific islands. It is run as an “after-hours passion project” by Kennedy, who is now UnitingWorld’s Associate Director for Asia and Africa regions and has also lived and worked in Fiji working with the Fijian Red Cross.

To an Australian, “back-to-school costs” conjures up images of pencil cases, glue sticks and plastic contact for covering school books (the bane of every parent’s existence). But that’s not what Kennedy is referring to.

“Not having uniforms or the travel passes that are needed beyond what the Fijian government provides, are both realities that keep girls out of school,” she tells Eternity. “The barriers are real.”

In addition to covering uniforms and travel costs, A Girl and her world will run child protection and menstrual health workshops for the female students throughout 2020.

“Periods can also be a barrier to girls going to school; they may not have access to pads or soap at school or anywhere to put their pads,” says Kennedy.

“There’s a lot of taboo around menstruation as well. Pain and cramping can also stop them, so we have local nurses talk with them about managing these.

“The protection workshops are run by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and we fund the coming together of the girls and their mums or guardians to talk about staying safe, what to do to protect themselves and how to report when needed.”

“Our Fiji coordinator is working hard doing home visits and assessments right now. The girls are excited about their future – they know education is the key to breaking cycles of poverty and setting them up for success,” says Kennedy.

A Girl and her world is supported by faithful, regular donors and Kennedy shares that “we are tracking okay financially as an organisation, but we need $2000 in extra support from donors for the initial back-to-school push for essentials.”

She and her team hope Aussie hearts will be moved to give a gift to Fijian girls that has a potential impact beyond the usual “Chrissy pressie”.

Christian author and entrepreneur Susan Sohn has been a supporter of A Girl and her world since its launch.

Sohn told Eternity: “As a Christian living in a wealthy country, I am compelled to consider how my family and I benefit from things like free education and access to quality teaching. Not being able to access these things because of where you’re born, just isn’t right.”

“I support A Girl and her world as a locally-led and run organisation helping to educate girls and overcome the barriers they face to finishing school and going on to tertiary education.”

Sohn has two daughters herself and Kennedy says the organisation’s work often resonates most with parents of girls. This year, she and Sohn hope young women and female university students in developed countries will join their efforts.

Jane Kennedy, left, with a girl in Fiji

Using the skills she developed through her international development work, Kennedy began A Girl and her world in 2011. Since then, the organisation has run projects guided by the principle that “when women are healthy and educated, the benefits extend to their children, communities and nations”.

In addition to covering education costs for women and girls, A Girl and her world works with families to create income-generating projects. It also focuses on sharing stories of people’s resilience and resourcefulness, along with the power of community, what can be learned from the materially poor, and commonalities of the human experience.

Their team includes staff and trained volunteers on the ground, along with key stakeholders, donors and ‘Girl Ambassadors’ who generate awareness in their Australian schools.

To donate to getting girls and young women back to school and uni, go here.

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