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Changing the Hearts of Fathers Helping dads c h eris h t h eir da u g h ters by Heather Loring

“We need to study, to eat, to play, and we need your love. We are no strangers, we are your daughters.”

Poverty is the main constraint these fathers face, but, explains Moreno, “there are three boys for every girl going to school, and many of these boys are also from poor families. In India, not much of an effort is made to send girls to school, because they are considered paraya dhan — “somebody else’s property”— their future husband’s, to be exact, to whom they are married off as soon as possible. Sometimes the girls are kept at home to take care of younger siblings or relatives, to cook and clean, and, in the worst cases, for sexual and labor exploitation outside the home. “Their fathers are, for the most part, the sole decision-makers about whether girls go to school or not.” With a goal of treating each girl and her father as individuals who need to be heard, Moreno says he finds that men really do care. “I ask them, ‘If it was up to you, apart from other constraints, would you bring your daughter to school?’ Often the response is a resounding ‘yes.’” FADA uses, among other resources, a father-daughter documentary (available at FatherandDaughter.org) as an “educational tool to soften the hearts of men to show the longing

Lines sung by three young girls to their fathers at a meeting of the Father and Daughter Alliance in New Delhi Pedro Moreno isn’t interested in growing the organization he founded — but he does want to spread his passion. That passion is to see fathers and daughters link arms to improve education for young women around the world. The Father and Daughter Alliance (FADA) is already making an impact in India, where, in partnership with NGOs and government officials in Delhi, it is engaged in an initiative to bring girls to school by involving their fathers. Other countries that FADA is targeting include Afghanistan, which has a female literacy rate of only 21 percent, Benin (23 percent), Yemen (30 percent), and Guatemala (63 percent). But girls in developing nations aren’t the only ones who need increased involvement from their dads in order to make the most of their lives. “There are 24 million kids in the US living without a father,” says Moreno,“and half of them are girls, many of whom will never see their father again.” Even when fathers are present in the home, many are not actively involved, he says. “They’re watching TV or reading the paper; they don’t connect.” Moreno sees this as the same neglect that prevails around the world. So whether in the US or India, FADA hosts father-daughter dessert and game events to encourage them to connect and get to know each other. FADA wants to see men become champions for women’s education. “Rather than trying to change centuries-old traditions,” explains the FADA website, “we work on changing the attitude of every father toward his daughter.” FADA seeks to give girls primary education and access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Each additional year of schooling can increase a girl’s earning potential over the span of her lifetime. When fathers make school a priority, they create a brighter future for their daughters.

Dads and daughters from the Sanjay slum in New Delhi gather to celebrate the girls’ education — and each other.

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Creating a healthy, interlocking cycle: Girls who go to school are more confident and capable; and their fathers enjoy them more. Girls whose fathers cherish them are more likely to go to school — and to succeed there. of a girl’s heart for her father even to her death,” explains Moreno. “I don’t care about the brain; I want to appeal to their hearts.” Fathers’ capacity to change their hearts and minds toward their daughters encourages Moreno — and it parallels his own experience as well. “My opinions on women and education have most definitely evolved over time. I grew up in Latin America, a very macho-dominated society where — still, to a large extent — women are seen as instruments, not really given respect or consideration, much less equality. I have a daughter, and one day I was thinking, ‘As long as she’s pretty and knows how to cook and finds a good husband’— the caveman thing. Then I caught myself, because she deserves more than that from her father. We should not tolerate the mediocrity of low expectations. I want her to have a bachelor’s degree and maybe a master’s, whatever she wants to do, but I don’t want her to be stuck without options.” An international expert on social policy and economic mobility, Moreno says, “I’ve changed in my professional work with women and families, seeing the reality and importance of having women as equals treated with dignity and respect.

My wife and I have been married for 21 years, and she has helped me to see things differently over time. As women grow, men grow, and we all become better.” Last year the pilot program in Delhi brought to school 20 girls from the city’s Sanjay slum with the support of their fathers. A fathers’ association meets monthly for two hours. The father-daughter pairs share handcraft activities so they can slow down, observe each other, and get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, thoughts and dreams. According to Moreno, the girls are noticeably more hopeful and excited after beginning classes, and the changes are evident to their families. Fathers say, “My daughter is motivated now — both here in school and at home.” They see the change and realize that it’s good for everyone. Men respect women more when they see them as competent and self-confident. Says Moreno, “I have known many successful women who have extremely supportive and involved fathers.” Involved fathers promote successful, confident young women. n

F ather knows b est A recent survey of the fathers involved in New Delhi’s FADA program solicited feedback from the men, and included the following comments: “[My daughter] is very happy in going to school, because now she doesn’t have to do household work and can learn new things with other girls. In the house we are not able to spend time with her, so she feels happy at school.” Bharat Singh

Heather Loring is a recent graduate of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., where she received her bachelor’s in sociology. Active in Evangelicals for Social Action, she is passionate about racial reconciliation and gender equality.

“I would like to promote the education of other nonschool-going girl children, because now I know the importance of education. As I experience changes and development in my girl, I can share it with others and motivate them for educating their children.” Surendar Prasad

Fatherhood Begins at Home! What are you and/or the men in your life doing to father children well? Check out these excellent resources for dads, and work on your main fathering skill — simply being there — today.

“I want my child to become a good teacher, doctor, or any other good position as per her desire. I want that my daughters should earn good income by a dignified job and should be empowered to work in the community.” Ashok Kumar

Fathers for Good (Fathersforgood.org) National Center for Fathering (Fathers.com) National Fatherhood Initiative (Fatherhood.org) National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (Fatherhood.gov)

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Changing Hearts