Amid COVID-19, rural communities continue to face economic, health and safety concerns. From misinformation to improper sanitation, pastoral communities require immediate assistance to not only survive, but thrive. Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization, has stepped in to support these communities’ most vulnerable members. In recent months, the NGO has shifted its priorities; now, Mercy Corps is supporting girls’ education more than ever.
The Mission of Mercy Corps
In addition to reducing poverty and oppression through sustainable community building, Mercy Corps recently established a Resilience Fund to combat COVID-19’s effects. Mercy Corps explained that its funding will “provide emergency supplies, food and clean water” to developing countries like Colombia, Yemen and Nepal. However, donations go beyond monetary support as the organization targets public health concerns and stimulates economic recovery through education.
To protect pastoral communities, Mercy Corps supplies counseling stations, hand-washing training and sanitary facilities for nursing mothers and children. It also provides food when local markets close and funnel donations directly to at-risk families. To stimulate economic growth, Mercy Corps’ supports farmers, small businesses and girls’ education.
A New Focus: Girls’ Education
Recently, Mercy Corps made girls’ education its top priority as it “produces exceptional gains in areas of health, infant mortality and economic well-being of families.” However, the consequences of the pandemic forced many rural communities to relegate girls’ education to a lower priority. When countries like Kenya closed their borders, cities also shut down their schools. In turn, young women returned to their families and household chores.
Mercy Corps projects that the pandemic will significantly affect learning within rural communities. UNICEF organizations like Voices of Youth understand that education can delay young women’s marriages: each year a woman remains a school, she receives greater opportunities for personal growth and employment. However, Mercy Corps, and perhaps even Voices of Youth, fear that COVID-19 will increase the number of high school dropouts and consequently increase the rate of child marriages.
In the face of economic uncertainty, Mercy Corps supports girls’ education and aims to prevent its disappearance from public consciousness. Small donations and public outreach will counteract the pandemic’s effects and return young girls to safe, supportive environments that nourish their learning potential. The Resilience Fund will also maintain the Mercy Corps’ STEM program, which helps women in Nepal and Yemen complete their education through invaluable tutoring programs.
Cooperating with Communities to Increase Impact
Mercy Corps values girls’ education as a resource for development and hints at its potential social effects. However, UNICEF believes local communities must provide women access to quality education in three concrete ways:
- Low-Cost Education at Convenient Times. UNICEF argues that women’s education should be free or cost relatively little. School hours should be flexible so girls can maintain commitments to their families, complete their chores and finish their assignments. If families worry about the loss of income, schools should compensate community members by providing young girls with scholarships or stipends.
- Female Teachers and Schools Close to Home. Girls’ safety remains an everyday concern for most parents. Schools with women teachers can eliminate this stress and ensure that girls succeed without external pressures. Schools within walking distance of home also ensure the safety of young girls by reducing exposure to dangerous areas.
- Empowering Curricula. Because girls’ education has the potential to “enhance women’s self-esteem,” their course curricula should “avoid reproducing gender stereotyping.” Building a woman’s skills and self-confidence transforms her into a better worker, citizen and parent—all invaluable outcomes that extend far beyond graduation.
If rural communities consider UNICEF’s recommendations and remain open-minded to the benefits of girls’ education, the Mercy Corps Resilience Fund will serve a greater purpose. The Resilience Fund will stimulate economic development and encouraging proper hygiene. It will also counter COVID-19’s effects and ensure that girls’ education becomes a worldwide priority. Mercy Corps is supporting girls’ education to provide hope for economic viability in the next generation of women.
– Kyler Juarez