As the UN gathers to vote on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) this week, I took a close look at how WISER is already meeting these goals in its own little microcosm. After living here for over three months and experiencing the depth of WISER’s work, it appears that the school is doing well – clearly targeting 10 out the 17 goals. But, this is probably no surprise to the community of international development. The power of the girl child is central to the new development goals.
Some of the goals that WISER meets are obvious – quality education, gender equality, good health practices. Just take a look at WISER’s mission statement: “WISER is a community development organization focusing on the social empowerment of underprivileged girls through education and health.” Let’s break this down within the frame of the SDGs.
Goal 4: Quality Education. Despite their backgrounds, the WISER girls are highly academically competitive in the district. This is due in part to the low student to teacher ratio. While many schools in the area have overflowing classrooms with limited resources, WISER has a ten-to-one student to teacher ratio as well as spacious learning environments.
Goal 5: Gender Equality. WISER has worked hard to create an enabling environment for empowerment by creating a gender-sensitive and gender-responsive atmosphere. Many of our students are are the first females in their family to complete their secondary education. With each graduating class, WISER promotes gender equity in Muhuru Bay. Beyond promoting gender equality on WISER’s campus, WISER’s presence in the community is placing higher value on educating the girl child.
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. Every WISER girl has access to healthcare and basic health needs—such as sanitary pads, soap, and medications. Beyond that, WISER works to wholesomely care for its students by meeting not only their physical needs, but also their mental, social, and emotional needs. The school has created a unique system of psychosocial supports that gives the girls numerous avenues to seek the appropriate support they need.
By directly targeting Goals 3, 4, and 5, WISER inherently addresses other goals. For example, let’s look at Goal 8: Economic Growth. According to the Global Campaign for Education, a 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%. Educated women are more likely to be economically secure, enabling them to feel more empowered and demand their rights. This naturally leads to Goal 10: Reduce Inequalities. When our WISER girls have access to quality education, they are more likely to be included in the political and social systems of the community and the country. Their social status and gender no longer leaves them out of the conversation.
Now let’s look at Goal 1: End Poverty. We have already discussed how education can lead to better economic outcomes for women, but it does not stop there. An educated woman is more likely to have a healthier and more economically secure family. Her children are more likely to go to school, and the cycle continues to carry families and communities out of poverty.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Many students in this community arrive at school hungry each day, and many are malnourished. This prevents them from reaching their full potential. I recently asked a WISER student how life at WISER differs from her life at home. She responded by saying, “Life at WISER is different from my life at home because at WISER our basic needs are met such as food… At home sometimes that is missing.” At WISER the students are provided with three well-balanced, nutritious meals every day. Additionally, WISER has a school garden that produces fruits and vegetables. The school’s Environmental Club maintains the gardens while learning about conservation and gaining agricultural skills. Taking us to Goal 15: Life on Land. Muhuru Bay is an agriculture–based society with many jobs and investments focused on sustainable production of crops.
It’s clear that WISER is doing sustainable, impactful work—but the WISER community has not tackled these projects alone. WISER meets Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals as it partners with the government of Kenya, Johnson & Johnson, Huru International, Duke University, TASIS, the Nike Foundation, GlobalGiving, Segal Family Foundation, and UNICEF. To highlight a successful partnership outcome, in 2012 WISER partnered with the Muhuru Water Board and with UNICEF WASH to install a water purification system and four water kiosks. Now clean water is not only provided to WISER but also to 5,000 surrounding community members. So, we have arrived at our last stop: Goal 6: Clean Water.
WISER is one example of how beautifully these goals can be woven together if targets are implemented in a wholesome and sustainable way. International Day of the Girl is quickly approaching. This year the theme is: The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030. Why? The new Sustainable Development Goals will guide global efforts and funding to end poverty, to promote peace and justice, and to create sustainable development for the next 15 years. What is fundamental to meeting these new goals? Girls.