Today, I am ecstatic to report that the non-profit wing of The Andean Collection, aptly named, "The Andean Project"** has decided on its first project. A little while ago I received a phone call from Sarah, our intern in Ecuador, who was concerned about a situation arising in Olga's family. Olga, one of our lead artisans, is the oldest of a very large family. Sandra, one of her younger sisters, is 13 and has just finished elementary school.
Sandra, 13: Olga's younger sister (left)
Sarah told me that Sandra & Olga's parents were not going to allow Sandra to continue on to secondary (high) school because "girls don't need to go to secondary school." After hearing this I immediately called Olga to talk to her and get her take on the situation (thank goodness for cell phones). She told me Sandra wanted to continue with her schooling in the fall, but her parents couldn't afford to keep her in school and frankly - they didn't see the point. Even though there are no entrance fees to secondary (nor primary) school in Ecuador, students are responsible for their own uniforms (about $30) and school supplies (another $10-20 or so a year) plus bus fair to get to/from school (maybe $10) per year. Total costs for schooling are about $50-60 per year per child if they need a new uniform. For a family of 10 children, this quickly becomes unmanageable for those who live on about $1-2/day.
Olga Lucia Moran, 31: not long before working with The AC she was selling grain at the local market, forgoing meals in order to feed her children
So, I spoke with Olga's family. I told them that The AC was going to need well educated men and women in the future and that I thought it was important for all of their children to continue with secondary school. I told them that I would be honored to pay the school fees for Sandra if she was allowed to continue. Sandra could also work with us part-time after school, but that she'd only have a job if she was also in school.
So this talk became the impetus to implement our first project. The Andean Project (funded by The Andean Collection and other donations) will pay the secondary school fees of any of the artisans themselves, their children or siblings.
More importantly (and yes, I do think 'more' importantly), as The Andean Collection grows, it will be able to offer part-time after-school jobs to these students which will lead into full time employment upon the completion of secondary school. Education is undoubtedly important for the growth of future generations, but it is the synergy between The Andean Collection offering employment and The Andean Project promoting education that will allow our artisans and their families to emerge from poverty.
The story of parents thinking that girls' education is not necessary is still prevalent in many parts of the world and I have encountered it many times in the field myself. However, the interesting (and perhaps counter intuitive) fact here is that on average in Latin America, the same number of boys and girls are enrolled in school. In development jargon, this means that most Latin America countries have achieved "gender parity." At the secondary school level, the statistics show that in Ecuador particularly, MORE girls than boys are enrolled in secondary school. For example, as opposed to Central Africa, where 10 - 30% fewer females than males are enrolled in school, Ecuador is doing quite well.
However, this does NOT mean that women's advancement will necessarily follow. In many cases males are taken out of secondary school to work in the fields or other jobs that are not considered appropriate for women. It is the dearth of suitable employment options for women that explains how the equal or higher number of women are in school than men. By the time a girl is finished with secondary school it is unlikely that her employment options will have improved.
That's why The Andean Collection/Project thinks that it is important to create employment opportunities for both men and women, while simultaneously promoting education for both sexes.
You can learn more about gender parity in education (and check up on my facts) by reading the 2005 UNICEF report "Progress for Children."
**We are still applying for 501c3 status so while we can accept donations, these donations will only be tax deductible if we are approved for 501c3 status. If you wish to make a donation, please consult your accountant for advice on whether or not you can deduct your donation with us.