In rural Mozambique, less than 13% of girls aged 15-19 complete upper secondary education. Two of the biggest barriers are poverty and access, which also drive the high rates of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy in rural communities. Simply put, many girls have no other options after primary school, and this in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
In working closely with rural communities, the Mozambique School Lunch Initiative — a local NGO in Mozambique — has taken an innovative and comprehensive approach to addressing this challenge. Through the Secondary School Support program, adolescents who complete primary school are encouraged to continue on to the secondary level, and are provided a comprehensive package of support based on five pillars:
- Access — secondary schools in Mozambique are often too far away for students from the poorest and most remote villages to reach by foot (over 20 kilometers). The program provides a free school bus service to take the students to and from school each day. In particular, this ensures the safety for girls attending secondary school.
- Mentorship — for most adolescents in the program, they are the first in their families to go to secondary school, and there is a myriad of challenges they face in their teenage years. The program mentors (trained professionals) hold weekly meetings with the students, divided into small groups, during which they go over topics like goal-setting, communication skills, and adolescent health.
- Nutrition — for adolescents living in extreme poverty, one of the most pressing concerns is always hunger. In rural areas, this is especially true due to the seasonality of agricultural production. The program provides a nutritious school lunch and snacks to the students to ensure they have the ability to grow and learn.
- Girls' Health — for adolescent girls, menstrual hygiene is often a major challenge and factor for missing school. In partnership with BeGirl, the program provides information and menstrual hygiene products so the girls can better manage their monthly cycle.
- Community Outreach — to address gender norms and other societal constraints to girls' education, the program has a network of “mentor mothers” who serve as the main point of contact for each village. The mentor mothers are respected women in their communities and are responsible for conducting home visits to sensitize parents on the importance of girls' education, and to track down cases of child marriage (which are technically illegal in Mozambique, but persist in practice).
In the first year of the program (2022), the program reached 141 students. Only three students dropped out — a very high retention rate. This year (2023), the program size has over doubled to 293 students — 70% of whom are girls! This rapid expansion demonstrates the massive demand for the program, and its success so far in transitioning students to the secondary level. It also means that the program is looking for additional support to enable more students to further their education. It costs just $185 to support a student with the comprehensive package of for a whole year, and this has tremendous impacts on their future. Every additional year of secondary school boosts girls' eventual wages by 15-25%, along with many other positive impacts on health, empowerment, and wellbeing.
The Mozambique School Lunch Initiative's ambition is to see 90% of students in the program successfully complete upper secondary education (12th grade) — a seven-fold increase in the current rate. Through your support, rural Mozambican youth will have the power of an education and a pathway out of poverty.