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Julia Gillard, the Former Prime Minister of Australia, has joined forces with international education non-profit, the Campaign for Female Education, known as Camfed. In her new role, she will be an adviser and ambassador using her visibility to promote Camfed’s efforts and successes.
Gillard is a long-standing advocate for gender equality and the education of young girls in the developing world. Her role with Camfed will focus on the organization’s goal to educate one million more girls by 2020.
Camfed has supported more than 1.4 million Sub-Saharan African students through the equivalent of U.S. middle and high school in 23 years. The organization will look to Gillard for advice and support as it seeks to meet the ambitious goal of educating one million girls in just five years.
Gillard believes it’s the organization’s unique scalable model, and post-graduation programs and support that make it achievable.
“It’s a proven model for growth and sustainability,” Gillard says. “Camfed possesses the infrastructure, processes and partnerships to deliver real and lasting results for girls, their communities and nations. Camfed builds on local community capital, and its unique alumnae network multiplies the investment in girls, as those who have benefited invest in the education of other girls.”
Gillard has been a long time supporter of the cause to educate women across the globe and of the organization itself. Announced alongside Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton in 2014, Gillard pushed the Clinton Global Initiative’s CHARGE collaboration to educate 14 million girls over the next five years with $600 million.
Camfed committed $100 million toward the goal, which has since transcended to meet a number of the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals proposed last year in an effort to eradicate poverty and strengthen global peace by 2030.
One facet setting Camfed apart from similar organizations is its alumni network, called CAMA. With over 33,000 women members from Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – the five countries the organization operates in – it’s the largest pan-African network of its kind.
Some of those CAMA members had the chance to sit down and talk with Gillard at a symposium in Johannesburg this February to discuss how female education and equality is gaining traction, and why it matters.
“It’s not just our background that makes us powerful. It’s when we combine our background and the education that we received, to be able to say, ‘No more poverty. No more default settings for the poor,’” said Angeline Murimirwa, Camfed’s Regional Executive Director, and one of the first girls supported by Camfed.
The 25 alumni women in attendance were once marginalized girls themselves, too poor to access education and on a path to child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and disease. During a Q&A session with Gillard and journalists, they shared their experiences of the barriers they faced in gaining an education, what works when it comes to keeping girls in school, and how Camfed has made an impact on their lives.
“As Camfed helped me as a child, I’m planning to specialize in my profession to become a pediatrician and save children’s lives and give them better health, so that we have a future generation of good and healthy young people,” Dr. Talent Tokoda from Zimbabwe said.
Dr. Tokoda was born into extreme poverty. After receiving financial support from Camfed at a crucial point in her life, she was able to finish her schooling. She went on to become a medical doctor and is now practicing medicine in a remote region of Zimbabwe.
Alice Saisha from Zambia, once destined to be a child bride, now works with district officials to keep girls in school.
“Currently as a CAMA member, I am supporting four orphaned children. To me, taking those girls in has assured me of them having three meals; they have a shelter; they are able to go back to school. I know what it feels like, so I want to make a positive impact on my community,” Saisha told Gillard.
Gillard listened to many more life-changing stories, told by the very women she’s soon to be working alongside.
“Camfed has brought to me the very clear insight that if you can deal with poverty, then the girls with their inherent strengths will seize the opportunities given. That if you can get the right resources to the right girls at the right time, then you will enable them, because they are strong and smart and resilient, to change their lives,” Gillard said.
Gillard isn’t only working with Camfed in the fight for global gender parity and equal access to education. She is also presently involved with the Global Partnership for Education, Brookings Institute, and the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunities.
“This is more than an organization, it’s more than a development model - it is a movement, a movement with the strength to sweep and reshape Africa,” Gillard says of Camfed.