Teach a girl, change the world By Jessica Langlois, MFA ’10
year after retiring from teaching high
similarly motivated a decade ago, when she created
school and several years after losing her husband
the Spring Buds program, a 13-year plan to fund
to cancer, Margo Manin McAuliffe ’58 traveled
the education of 1,000 girls from isolated villages
to Naivasha, Kenya, a rural town on open, fertile
in western China. And closer to home, Lacy Asbill
land about 50 miles northwest of Nairobi. It was
’02 and Elana Metz ’03 established Girls Moving
2005, and she had volunteered to teach math to
Forward, an organization that combines mentoring
girls at a co-ed Catholic boarding school there.
and tutoring to encourage the academic and emo-
Ever since she was a young girl herself,
tional growth of K-12 girls from at-risk communi-
McAuliffe had known that she wanted to do
ties in Oakland and Watsonville.
something to leave the world better than she
Each of these four alumnae has been spurred
had found it, she says, her lively green
to action by a shared commitment to using their
eyes shining behind oval, wire-rimmed
skills and resources to advancing women through
glasses. Providing education for girls in Kenya was a sure way to improve the circumstances of those
the power of education.
young women dramatically. In Africa, educated girls
A conducive climate for learning
face a reduced risk of HIV infection, are less vulner-
After arriving in Naivasha, McAuliffe learned that
able to exploitation and human trafficking, are less
the high school where she had planned to teach
likely to marry at a young age, and raise children
was phasing out girl students, with the intention
who are more likely to go to school themselves.
of building a separate girls’ school. This change was a reaction to the co-ed school’s high rate of
Numerous studies show a direct correlation between women’s education levels and their quality of life, including their health status, economic standing, and political power.
teen pregnancy—which carries a heavy stigma in Kenya. According to one regional nonprofit organization, 13,000 Kenyan girls leave school each year due to pregnancy, and nearly half of all young women have had a first child by age 19. Many girls who leave school pregnant risk ending
In any country, in fact, gender parity in educa-
M i l l s Q u a r t e r ly
up in prostitution.
tion is critical; numerous studies show a direct
Then there are those who can’t afford to go
correlation between women’s education levels
to school at all. Though Kenya introduced free
and their quality of life, including their health sta-
primary education for all in 2003, continuing on
tus, economic standing, and political power. The
through high school is very expensive for both
United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative reports
boys and girls. “There’s a hope that if you have
that 39 million girls globally are not enrolled in
an education, you can get a job,” McAuliffe says.
school, and that two-thirds of the world’s illiterate
“No guarantees—just like here.” Girls who can-
adults are women.
not afford high school are left with few options.
Like a number of other Mills graduates, McAuliffe
Mostly, McAuliffe explains, they become “house
is working to educate underserved girls in one of
help,” or end up in arranged marriages to men
the world’s most economically and socially disad-
two or three times their age, doing hard labor on
vantaged communities. Rosalyn Chen Koo ’51 was
the farm and producing children.