Women’s Education at the Intersection of Health and Human Rights

October 15, 2013

Special Post for Blog Action Day, October 16, 2013Image


In the 21st century, it is shocking to realize that health and well-being are aspects of human life in which gender inequality is strongly manifested. Physical health is often linked to other social indicators of status, wealth, and civil rights. Especially in poor, developing regions of the world, vulnerable populations of women and girls have the most to gain from social interventions, with implications for both maternal/infant health and human rights. Unfortunately, there is often a disconnect between the way international organizations initiate clinical, technical health interventions and they way they promote social interventions of equality and empowerment. The Batonga Foundation is one nonprofit organization that has championed the groundbreaking idea that educating girls is an effective means of improving the health, wealth, and well-being of entire communities.

The Batonga Foundation is based on UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Grammy Award-winner and founder Angelique Kidjo’s vision that through education, African women and girls can be empowered to be the leaders of change in their countries. Unfortunately, prohibitive cultural norms and lack of basic necessities such as transportation, school materials, and adequate facilities are barriers to education for many girls in rural, poor regions of the world. Batonga works with the most vulnerable populations of girls in Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Benin – building schools, granting scholarships, creating academic mentoring programs, and ensuring that women have the resources through microloans to send their daughters to school.

For Batonga, education is a practical way to link, both in the theoretical and institutional realms, movement toward the physical health of women in addition to their social, human rights. It is one thing to look at economic, mortality, morbidity, and fertility numbers and develop the statistically sound theory that “educated” women are actually beneficial to society as a whole. Putting this theory into institutional practice, however, is a difficult transition to make in the face of certain cultural norms and practices such as early marriage, genital cutting, and other gendered customs that place men and women in categorically different social profiles.

It is not practical, realistic, or beneficial to make a leap from the simple, theoretical statement, “Women should have access to education,” to “…so we’re going to go out and educate them.” This is why Batonga’s mission to promote girls’ education involves infrastructure to keep girls in school, in addition to support systems of community members as the girls’ mentors. Just like any health or social initiative aimed at the advancement of human rights, education is best thought of in the terms of the specific cultures involved and is best implemented on the local level.

One girl named Anastasie in Batonga’s program in Benin is a good example of an educated girl’s potential to transform her community. Anastasie is in school and determined to help decrease the burden of disease and child mortality in her village. After her father’s recent passing, her family was unable to continue supporting her education. Batonga is able to provide mentoring and the necessary financial assistance so that Anastasie can continue her education and one day fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor.

Anastasie’s story is indicative of how education can have cascading benefits as a health and social intervention. She dreams of affecting change on the local level, in her own community. Building schools is important, but empowering women to be active in human rights and the leadership of their community can have truly lasting effects. External forces such as international NGOs can often help advance women’s initiatives, but communities themselves must be invested in the change.

When it comes to the ground-level structures of women’s education as a human right, a holistic approach is most beneficial. Not only do there need to be physical schools and teachers willing and able to help children (boys and girls) learn, but young women need to be healthy and structurally supported throughout their schooling. Through the combined efforts of organizations like The Batonga Foundation and educated women such as Anastasie will one day be, better practices of girls’ education can be implemented community-by-community.


-Maddy Trione

Girls’ Education and World AIDS Day

November 28, 2012

On Friday, the world will unite for World AIDS Day. Held on December 1st each year, World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died.

Why is celebrating World AIDS Day Important?

Globally, an estimated 33.3 million people have HIV. More than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. In Africa, 17 million people have died since the epidemic began in the late 1970s. More than 3.3 million of those who have died have been children. In addition, it is reported that AIDS has orphaned 12 million children.

Despite scientific advances and increased awareness, many people still don’t know how to protect themselves and discrimination is still faced by many with the virus. World AIDS Day serves as an important reminder to the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.

How do we solve the problem?

Our founder, Angelique Kidjo, believes that in terms of Africa, the problem is rooted in the inferior status of women in African society: “A girl in Africa has no identity. She belongs to the father who can marry her off at any age to anybody. The girls have no say. Nobody hears their dreams. They start their sexual life early and there’s no program to protect them. Most African men don’t even know that pills exist.”

In fact, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 75 percent of HIV-infected youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are girls.

But this can change when girls receive an education; Education empowers girls to make their own decisions. This allows them to marry later and have more control over their own health choices, which can help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

How can you support World AIDS Day through Batonga?

In Benin, Ethiopia and Cameroon, Batonga invests in the education of girls who have been orphaned by AIDS or girls whose family members have been affected by HIV/AIDS. We also provide mentoring activities that are designed to foster self-esteem among the girls and provide them with valuable life skills and information on HIV/AIDS prevention.

One of our scholars in Ethiopia, Aynalem, lost both of her biological parents to famine as a child and then lost her adoptive parents to HIV/AIDS six years ago.  Despite her difficult childhood, she completed high school with high scores and was able to begin studying law in the evenings through the help of Batonga. She is now in her second year, performing well in school, and looking toward a bright future.


Education is the foundation for the success of all HIV programming. Education allows students to learn about the risks of HIV and to develop skills that can protect them their throughout their lives.


How to Make a Purposeful Purchase this Holiday Season

November 14, 2012

With only a week left until Thanksgiving, most of us are already preparing for the Black Friday rush. We’re trying to brainstorm the perfect meaningful gift for our family and friends. What if that gift could be not only meaningful to the person who receives it, but to someone else as well?

This holiday season, we have a few suggestions for gifts that give in more ways than one. First, there is our fabulous Batonga Bracelets; made from recycled rubber by women living in a shelter in Senegal, these bracelets are customized in Batonga’s colors of yellow, brown, and turquoise and accented with a Swarovski crystal butterfly to signify Batonga’s symbol of African girls fulfilling their potential.

Batonga Bracelets (see bottom for purchase information)

There are also holiday cards with images drawn by our scholars at the Batonga-supported youth center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. These one of a kind pictures appear on the greeting cards along with the artist’s name and age. Each box contains ten cards and is left blank on the inside for a personal message or greeting.

Holiday Cards (see bottom for purchase information)

100% of the proceeds from either of these purchases benefit girls’ education in Africa.

Why is giving the gift of education important?

These gifts are meaningful not for just the tangible value and joy they might bring us but for the intangible value and the opportunities they can bring someone else. Consider Judith, a 20 year-old Batonga scholar, who was left blind after an accident she had at age five. With no family to support her, she grew up in a hostel for blind children in the central region of Cameroon. If it were not for Batonga and our local NGO partner, African Action on Aids (AAA), Judith would not have been able to attend school. She is extremely grateful for the support Batonga provides and says, “This scholarship is not only giving me an opportunity to go to school and fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher; it also places me in a network of other girls benefiting from the same scholarship and who have received me with open arms.”

Judith dreams of becoming a teacher and hopes to one day set an example for other handicapped students by proving that they are not victims and can achieve great things.


Your donations to Batonga help educate and empower girls and make dreams like Judith’s possible. So this holiday season, consider a gift that means a little more and give in more ways than one.


To purchase Batonga Bracelets, click here 

For information on how to purchase holiday cards, please email: info@batongafoundation.org

Shop to benefit Batonga on Recoup: http://www.recoup.com/shop/biz/LaCigale/BatongaFoundation

To learn about other Batonga scholars, please visit: http://www.batongafoundation.org/see/batonga-girls/



A New Tradition for the Holiday Season: #GivingTuesday

November 7, 2012

At the Batonga Foundation, we work everyday to give back to members of our global community, specifically by supporting girls’ education.  That’s why we want you to consider starting a new tradition during this upcoming holiday season by joining us in supporting the #GivingTuesday campaign.

What is Giving Tuesday?

Giving Tuesday is an idea that we should have a day where we give thanks by donating to those in need; it is a day whose aim is to celebrate and encourage charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

Why do we support this campaign?

We already have days such as “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” but a day for giving much better reflects the spirit of the holidays. Everyone can make a difference and that’s what we have to opportunity to do by beginning a new tradition and making a renewed commitment to giving.

How can you get involved?

You can help by donating and by spreading the word to your family and friends. Tell them about why you support this cause and nonprofits they can donate to, such as ours. Here’s a few of our amazing causes you can support this #GivingTuesday:

Girl Effect Challenge (see our previous blog post for more information): http://bit.ly/PJuvsn

Make a general donation: http://www.batongafoundation.org/help/donate/

Why should you support us?

In an increasingly interconnected global society, the wellbeing and happiness of all humanity should be important to every one of us. One of the best ways we can improve well being is to invest in girls; when a girl is educated, she empowered and able to break the cycle of poverty. Educated girls reinvest 90% of their income in their family compared to only 30-40% by men. Education is a vital tool to provide girls with the skills they need to improve their own well being, the well being of their family and to achieve their dreams.

Happy Giving! 

Some of our Batonga girls in Benin

Girl Effect Challenge

November 1, 2012

Today marks the beginning of the Girl Effect GlobalGiving Challenge. This is an opportunity for girl-focused organizations, like ours, to connect with the Girl Effect movement and compete for an opportunity to win a one-year spot on the Girl Effect fundraising page on GlobalGiving. The challenge runs from November 1, 2012 through November 30, 2012.

What is the Girl Effect?

The girl effect isn’t just a campaign—it’s a movement led by amazing people all across the world. This movement focuses on the potential of girls to get themselves and the world out of poverty when they are given the chance to participate. This begins with an education, health services, and opportunity, which create positive ripple effects. Girls need laws to change, money in their pockets, their parents, their government, and the global community to see they are valuable. Through the girl effect, we can stop poverty before it starts.

What is Global Giving?

GlobalGiving is an online fundraising website that connects charities with donors. GlobalGiving connects donors to more than 1,500 community-based projects addressing a wide range of problems such as education, the environment, human rights, hunger and many others over 100 countries.

What is our project?

Our project works to enable and empower adolescent girls who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. We will provide 25 girls in Cameroon with school fees and supplies, after-school tutoring, and mentor programs; this will connect them to role models in their community who encourage their success. They will gain knowledge and self-esteem through regular mentoring, and the chance to support themselves in a healthy and economically secure lifestyle. The girls will learn about postponing marriage and pregnancy; they will also be equipped with the knowledge for when they do have a child so they can better protect them against illnesses and to send their child to school. When girls are educated, they are more likely to marry later, have fewer children, protect themselves against disease, generate more income, and help to boost their economy. Batonga’s all-encompassing support thus not only encourages girls to complete their education, but also promotes their future health and prosperity.


How can you get involved?

We need your help to win. Winners for this challenge are picked based on which ones have the highest number of unique donors. This means you can give $1 or $1,000 dollars, but the more donors the better, so tell your friends too! Remember to vote with your dollars and donate to our organization!

To donate, please visit: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/educate-and-empower-25-girls-in-cameroon/

A Night with Angelique Kidjo: Benefit Concert at the Benin Embassy

October 24, 2012

Angelique performs at the benefit

This past Friday night, the Batonga Foundation held a benefit concert at the Benin Embassy featuring our founder, Angelique Kidjo. Despite the ensuing downpour of rain, a fun time was had by all. The night was a cultural experience as Beninese food was provided.  The Benin embassy was very welcoming, which made it feel like you were at home (in fact, Benin is home for Angelique and one of our interns).

When Angelique started performing, every guest was mesmerized, some even got up and danced with Angelique! Her powerful presence had an effect on every person who attended, young or old. She is truly an inspiring individual. In fact, she is a Grammy Award winning singer and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s Premier Diva” while Forbes Magazine has called her one of the “40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa”.  We were lucky enough to hear her sing our favorite song, “Batonga” whose lyrics address a young African girl and can be roughly translated as, “you are poor but you dance like a princess, and you can do as you please regardless of what anyone tells you.”

Guests dance with Angelique

“Batonga” is a unique word because Angelique created it herself. Originally, Angelique used it as a response to taunts from boys when they made fun of her for going to school, which was not socially acceptable in her native country of Benin at the time. Her taunters didn’t understand what it meant, but it was her way of asserting a girls equal right to an education.  Now, the organization she founded proudly bears this name and fights with her for girls’ education.

Batonga interns with the Benin Ambassador

A big thanks to everyone who supported this event! We appreciate your support for our programs and girls education.

To get involved and to learn more, please visit: www.batongafoundation.org


Girls and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

October 17, 2012

Today marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to “promote awareness of the need to eradicate poverty and destitution in all countries, particularly in developing countries – a need that has become a development priority”. However, there is clearly still poverty throughout the world, so what can we do to stop it?

There are many ways to address this complicated problem but a good place to start is by investing in girls. Statistics show that when women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. Yet we live in a world where women perform 66 percent of the work, but earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. A good way to address this disparity is through education in order to better equip girls and women with the skills they need to earn income and fight poverty.

But getting an education isn’t always easy for girls in the developing world where access to education is difficult and quality of education is often poor. In a panel today hosted by Plan International, Mr. Abraha Asfaw, who is currently a fellow with the Center for Universal Education and Brookings, discussed these problems faced by girls. In his native country of Ethiopia, communities often don’t see the value in sending their girls to school. In addition, education has many barriers for girls, who often aren’t given support and face gender insensitive classrooms. This makes attendance difficult for girls; for example, they often won’t attend school if they are menstruating. In fact, according to UNICEF, approximately 1 in 10 girls will either miss classes or completely drop out of school once they reach adolescents due to lack of bathrooms or sanitary pads. This causes girls to fall behind in school, which further engrains a system where boys outperform girls. But if girls stay in school, UNESCO has found that each extra year of schooling that a girl receives boosts her future income by 10-20 percent  (15-25 percent if the extra year is in secondary)! If we invest in girls’ education and address the current disparities, we will simultaneously address the widespread issue of poverty.


What are we doing?

Batonga currently provides sanitary pads to help decrease this barrier to enrollment. Additionally, Batonga has installed latrines, water wells, and hand-washing stations at four schools. To help our scholars better deal with the problems they face, mentors are provided who help Batonga girls foster greater self-esteem and teach them valuable life skills. Tutors also help scholars to catch-up in the subjects they are struggling with, which allows scholars to take advantage of one-on-one attention from qualified teachers and mentors.

To get involved and to learn more, please visit: www.batongafoundation.org


An Update from the Field: Ethiopia Quarterly Report from Mercy Corps

October 2, 2012

Our partner in Ethiopia, Mercy Corps, has just released their quarterly report. The report details the work currently being done in the Konso and Derashe regions of Ethiopia from April 2012- June 2012. This project, called “PROSPER: Empowering Girls and Women” is twenty-one months into a four year commitment whose main objective is to help girls complete secondary schooling and to empower women and girls through increased participation in economic activities. Currently, the project is expected to successfully achieve all its goals on time. The idea behind PROSPER is to empower marginalized women to enable girls to complete their secondary school education and improve their well being through the following five results:

Result 1: Help girls continue and complete their education

Currently, PROSPER supports 140 girls through scholarships to help them continue their education in secondary and vocational schools.

Result 2: Create increased employment opportunities for girls after they complete their education

This includes support of girls and women by engaging them in long-term skills training at vocational schools while simultaneously providing them with monthly allowances to cover their basic needs. This includes 42 girls who were unable to qualify for higher education who are currently attending vocational school.

Result 3: Help mothers/caregivers offset the costs of sending their girls to school

All 57 mothers/caregivers who had been previously selected to receive loans have gone into business and have started paying back their loans. 14 more mothers/caregivers have been selected from the Derashe district while 29 still need to be selected from the Konso district which will help reach the goal of supporting 100 mothers/caregivers.

Result 4: Empower marginalized women through saving and loan projects

Loan disbursements for 150 rural women who have already received business training are currently underway. Selection of the remaining 50 women to receive training and support is being finalized.

Result 5: help women and girls increase their earning potential through skills training programs

At the time of their report, 58 women and girls had been supported and were in the process of receiving skills training. The ultimate goal is to aid 150 women in 10 villages.


Students display furniture they made.


PROSPER has inspired other girls in the villages who see the participants’ ambition and commitment to the program. Many girls who participated in the secondary school program now aim to continue to college.

Progress has been achieved throughout this project, but there are still challenges to address. One challenge mentioned by nearly all of the girls was not having enough time to study. The girls said, although the project is doing all it can to support them to succeed in school, they are not supported when they get home. This is because most of them have to help their mothers with housework or farming. For many mothers, there is no alternative to their daughter’s engagement in housework as they are very poor and cannot afford to hire additional help. To learn more about what you can do to help support Batonga and its partner projects like PROSPER, visit our website at: www.batongafoundation.org


Students at the Arbaminch Vocational College

Empowering Women: 30 songs in 30 days

September 19, 2012

Last week, I was able to hear Nicholas Kristof speak at American University about his new project, the Half the Sky Movement. The Half the Sky Movement believes that the oppression of women and girls worldwide defines our current century and they are committed to putting and end to this.

During his talk, Kristof stressed the importance of educating girls as the first step to combatting poverty. He spoke of a girl he met in Africa who was able to attend school because the NGO Heifer International provided her family with a goat. She even went on to be one of the first from her community to complete her education abroad at Connecticut College.

This story shows the needs of girls in Africa that we don’t often consider. Often, girls don’t continue their education because they are needed at home to help with housework in order to ease the family’s burden. In fact, Among 13-24 year olds in the developing world, 33% say household chores are the main reason they aren’t in school. Also, girls are often forced to marry at a young age whereas girls who complete their secondary education are 6 times less likely to become child brides. Schools are also usually less accessible due to distance and in addition the schools are often not equipped to meet the sanitary needs of girls.


This is why the Batonga Foundation has created a few innovative ways to deal with these problems. For example, our program in Benin provides girls with bicycles to help ease the burden of travel. They are also provided with sanitary pads because for many, menstruation is a barrier to attendance and enrollment. We also work to ensure clean drinking water. This is because students are 12% more likely to attend school if water is within a 15-minute walking distance instead of an hour.  In Ethiopia, we are also providing means of economic empowerment to mothers so that their daughters can stay in school. For example, mothers and caretakers are provided with financial training, business development skills, and loans up to $150, which are all linked with the enrollment of their child. These incentives make it easier for girls to gain access to education and be empowered.

As you can see, there is a clear link between the goals of the Batonga Foundation and the Half the Sky Movement as we are both working towards women’s empowerment. That is one of the reasons why our founder, Angelique Kidjo, has showed her support for this movement by donating one of her songs to Half the Sky’s 30 songs in 30 days initiative. Angelique’s collaboration with Alicia Keys will become available on September 26th so be sure to check this link out for a free download of the song!

Be sure to check out another one of Angelique’s amazing songs while you wait!

How can you show your support for women’s empowerment?

Donate to Batonga!

A Fresh Start: Ethiopian New Year

September 11, 2012

Today we want to wish a Happy New Year to all our girls studying in Ethiopia! This may seem confusing as we generally think of January 1st as New Year. However, Ethiopia follows a different calendar known as the Ge’ez calendar. It is based on the older Alexandrian or Coptic calendar, which in turn derives from the Egyptian calendar. The major difference between the Ethiopian Calendar and the Gregorian calendar (our calendar) is that it is seven to eight years behind us!  This results from alternate calculations in determining the date of the Annunciation of Jesus.

So really, many Ethiopians are celebrating the year 2005!

Traditionally during the New Year, Ethiopians around the world attend prayer services, visit with family, exchange gifts and host colorful processions. Village children go door-to-door handing out fresh flowers to neighbors.


But what we should remember on this Ethiopian New Year is something we often think of on New Years in the US: a new year, a fresh start.

 We believe in helping girls get a fresh start, and this starts with an education. 


For example there is Fidakwa, a Batonga scholar in Ethiopia. She lost both of her parents at the age of 10.  She was abducted at 13 and later abandoned by her husband and left with twin babies at age 15.  Thanks to support from Batonga, she is now attending a private medical college where she is studying to be a laboratory technician.  She is in her third year of school with excellent grades and expects to graduate this year.

Many girls like Fidakwa are also forced to drop out of school. To help reverse this, the Batonga foundation invests in these girls so that they can bring change and give a fresh start to the next generation of young Africans.

To help us give young girls like Fidakwa a fresh start, please visit:


For more information, visit: http://www.batongafoundation.org/see/country-profiles/