Thursday, September 1, 2016
Author: 

Krista Rigalo served as the Program Director for the Caux Scholars Program from 2004-2005. Krista counts her time in Caux as an important transition point from having served 14 years in various countries in Africa in development and humanitarian roles and her subsequent doctoral studies and work in the US. She cherishes her time in Caux as a reminder that empowering, compassionate community is possible.

Krista Rigalo - Let girls learnHere's a rather daunting statistic: 62 million girls are not in school. And for those that are, they often face constraints and obstacles unique to their gender for remaining in school and transitioning to full participation in social, political and economic life as an adult. This circumscribing of girls' lives is unfortunately a global issue.  Even in so-called developed countries, girls struggle with mixed messages about their value, worth, and potential. And yet we know that when a girl is educated, the development benefits are multi-fold.  Educated girls get married later, have better spacing between their children, and reduced incidence of under-five child mortality. Their families have better nutritional status and their children are much more likely to get  an education as well. An educated woman stands to earn 10% more income for each year of secondary school completed. Countries with a greater degree of women educated have higher rates of agricultural production and GDPs. In short, educating girls is the closest thing we've got to a silver bullet in development.    
 
In March 2015, the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama launched a powerful whole-of-government initiative entitled Let Girls Learn, inviting US government agencies to join their programming efforts to synergistically address this problem. The Peace Corps is one of the lead agencies helping to implement Let Girls Learn.  With over 7000 Volunteers in the field in 65 countries around the world, as well as an alumni base of over 220,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, the Peace Corps is uniquely placed to accompany communities in their development efforts. Upon the request of communities and organizations, Peace Corps Volunteers live at the level of the people served, assisting with capacity building and behavior change interventions. As welcomed and integrated members of communities, Peace Corps Volunteers build lasting relationships of trust that endure beyond their two years of service. We ask that our Volunteers carry their service home, educating Americans about the lives, dreams, and aspirations of their adopted community members.  
 
Let girls LearnThrough Let Girls Learn, we are working with teachers, parents, community leaders, and girls themselves to build the skills and capacities needed to help girls thrive. Volunteers work with communities to identify and address constraints and obstacles to girls' education, which could be anything from the lack of safe and discreet latrines and bathrooms for girls, to the lack of school fees, to transportation and safety issues. We run girls' empowerment Camps, Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), as well as girls' clubs where the leadership and life skills created in the camp setting can continue to be nurtured and supported. We know that girls do not live in a vacuum and so actively include working with men and boys in our programs, everything from promoting positive masculinities in boys' camps and clubs to holding programs for fathers and uncles to create support and ambition for girls and young women. We currently have Volunteers in 35 country programs participating; their enthusiasm for this work is boundless and inspiring.  
 
I say this often: I feel like I won the job lottery. My career and education path have led to this point. Working on girls' education and empowerment issues is in many ways the natural next step in an almost 30-year career of development and humanitarian aid work as well as peacebuilding and psycho-social programming. 
 
I get the opportunity to occasionally travel, visiting Volunteers and meeting firsthand the girls with whom they work. I always leave these experiences edified and encouraged, marked by the hunger the girls manifest for education and opportunities to stretch themselves and grow. It seems almost cliché to say, but the world needs their gifts, abilities, passion, and creativity. Together, we can move the needle on this issue- this is a solvable problem.  It takes concern, care, compassion, a commitment to justice and respect.... and sometimes some resources. I hope that you will seek to learn more and take action.  We CAN get 62 million girls in school - and on the path to a brighter future.  Please visit: Let Girls Learn to learn more and to consider projects of all sizes seeking support.