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The State of the World's Children 2004

Egypt: Dreams realized

© UNICEF/2000/Pirozzi
Through the achievements of children such as these in a community school in Egypt, the eyes of a remote community have been opened onto the world.

Awatif Morsy was eight years old and living in Beni Shara’an, Egypt when someone came to her house and asked for the names of children not attending school. Her mother gave them Awatif’s name. She has been going to school ever since.
Initially not everyone was certain that educating girls was a good idea. Farmers, for instance, were afraid they would lose cheap labour. Even Awatif’s stepfather was unconvinced.

But Farouk Abdel Naim, an elderly merchant, did not share that view and instead donated premises to be used as a school. “I’ve come to believe that a girl’s education is more important even than a boy’s,” says Mr. Abdel Naim. “A man can always make something out of his circumstances but a girl can’t. She needs to be educated in order to get on in life.”

Eight years later, most of the doubters share his opinion. Today, the school – now three classrooms – is seen as a wise investment. Illiterate parents depend on their daughters to read and write for them. Many illiterate adults are inspired to take literacy classes themselves.

The rest of Egypt is now following Beni Shara’an’s lead. In 2000, the country unveiled a Girls’ Education Initiative within months of the global launch of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative. The Egyptian programme was built on the earlier success of UNICEF and the Government in establishing 200 community schools and 3,500 one-room schools in the 1990s.

A series of high-level meetings, chaired by the First Lady, H. E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, have made girls’ education a top development priority for the next five years. Coupled with that pledge was a commitment to end the gender gap by 2007 and reach a half million out-of-school girls. A national task force involving government ministries, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies worked closely with local task forces to ensure that schools belonged to the communities they served.

Over the years, Egypt has gained international recognition for its girls’ education initiatives. Awatif Morsy has played an important role. In 2001, the 8-year-old was one of three child representatives sent by Egypt to Kampala, Uganda to attend a preparatory meeting for the UN Special Session on Children.



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Video feature: Egypt

Girls traditionally didn’t attend school in many rural parts of Egypt. Many had to work in the market or gather grain in sun-parched fields.
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Eight years ago, that all changed in this small village, when a local merchant opened a one-room community school, allowing education for girls for the first time.
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One girl who has benefited from education in the village is Awatif Morsy. She has become a writer and role model for her peers after attending the school. She now hopes to become a teacher.
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