Each year, we serve 15-20 girls and young women who are defying the odds stacked against them by poverty to excel and advance in severely under-resourced schools. Our 5th-12th grade scholars are top students (called "learners") selected by their teachers for this program based on their grades and personal deportment. Some of our scholars are orphans, while others have lost at least one parent or a close family member who helped care for them. They strive alongside hundreds of other learners whose families struggle to pay for school expenses. Yet despite the many difficulties they face, these young achievers have managed to excel through hard work and sheer determination to succeed. Those who perform well on their matriculation exams or who wish to pursue vocational training are eligible for our continued support beyond high school graduation.
In many parts of rural Africa, boys' needs and education are given priority over those of girls. This reality reflects the traditional cultural expectation that girls will marry and serve the family of their future husbands, whereas boys are expected to earn income and provide for their parents in old age. As a result, girls are often kept at home when family finances cannot cover the school expenses of all the children in their care, or when family members need more care or other domestic labor. Our program challenges these cultural norms in a highly patriarchal region and aims to change low expectations of girls' achievement and career potential.
The rural community of Esicabazini lies in the northeastern corner of South Africa, near the border with Mozambique. Difficult to find on a map, it is located approximately 5 kilometers east of Tembe Elephant Park, a reserve not far from Kosi Bay. The closest towns are Manguzi to the east and Jozini to the west. The nearest urban area, Durban, is 5-6 hours' drive south. It is an area with 80 percent unemployment among adults, and the land is barely fertile enough to grow the food families need to survive. Like much of poverty-stricken Africa, the community has been devastated by HIV/AIDS, leaving many children orphaned or left with relatives who cannot afford the basic expenses of all the children in their care. Due to its remote location and for historical reasons, the area has seen little of the development that more urban areas of the country have enjoyed in recent years.