Today, still less than a third of schooled children in the world are girls. Among the 900 million illiterate adults, two thirds are women. Investing in girls' educations should be a priority. As a follow up to our recent donation, we sat down with Mathilde Jahan, Vice-President of Toutes à l’école Luxembourg and Catherine Ravasio, Communication Manager to find out more about the important work being done by the association.
Could you tell us a little bit more about Toutes à l’Ecole?
M: Founded in 2005 by French journalist Tina Kieffer, the association provides education to the poorest girls around the school district, entirely free of charge. Back in 2006, the pilot school, Happy Chandara was built, about 12km from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The school provides global support to its pupils: education, food and medical monitoring (general medicine, vaccinations, dental and eye care). Today, we educate more than 1300 pupils on the campus and each year, we welcome around 100 young girls.
C: In Luxembourg, the association was created in 2011. We have the same purpose as the French mother association, but we have our own structure and financing. However, we still work very closely with them: the chairman of Toutes à l’Ecole Luxembourg is also sitting on the board in France.
Why girl’s education in particular?
M: Worldwide, 132 million girls are out of school. In Cambodia, where approximately 90% of intellectuals lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge genocide, many families live in precarious conditions. They are so poor that they have no other way than to get their children to work from a very young age. Investing in girls’ education means transforming communities and countries: educated girls develop life skills that are necessary to succeed, such as self-management, negotiation, critical thinking, and communication.
Financially speaking, Toutes à l’école works mainly with donations?
M: Toutes à l’école heavily relies on private donations: these can come from individuals, like you and I, or companies, like the Luxembourg Stock Exchange or even foundations. In Luxembourg, we also work together with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs to get public funding.
C: 2020 has been tough and we are facing a shortage of sponsors for next year's intake of schoolgirls. By making even a small donation, you give young girls from desperately poor families the incredible possibility of a bright future as a free, well-educated woman.
What is your role at Toutes à l’Ecole? How did you first get involved in the cause?
C: I only recently joined the association to help on a communication and operational perspective. I joined to help develop the association window towards the public in Luxembourg and to ensure increased efficiency in communicating our goal and cause that is so dear to us. I’m glad I joined and would do it again, if I had to. Now, I’m busy working on fundraising and new ways to raise money with partnerships.
M: I work full-time in the banking sector in Luxembourg but have also been with the association since its early start. I began as a volunteer – it was 2011 and I helped out with the organisation of a Halloween party for children. I then became the godmother of a girl, or the sponsor as we say. At the time, she was just in primary school; now, she is in middle school.
How did COVID-19 impact your activities? How did you respond to these new challenges?
M: COVID-19 caused schools to close down, affecting millions of children in Cambodia. The past year has threatened to roll back years of progress, depriving the most vulnerable from essential services. In April 2020, we decided to extend our help beyond the families of girls from Happy Chandara. We also started helping the poorest families in surrounding communities. We provided each of these families with food baskets (milk, rice, sugar, etc.) and progressively reopened the school, making sure that social distancing and health and safety measures were carefully followed. To incentivize families, we donated food in exchange for girls to get a continuous education. Due to COVID-19, we also had to move our classes to a virtual environment. Despite the sudden change, we are proud to announce that 100% of seniors got their baccalaureate! Universities are now also offering online courses to girls.
Could you share a little bit more about new initiatives you are currently working on? What does the future hold for Toutes à l’école?
M: The Happy Chandara School is made up of a primary school, middle school, high school, boarding school, vocational training center and a medico-social center. A permaculture school also teaches the surrounding inhabitants good farming practices, in an area where the use of pesticides is a real problem. Very recently, we opened a new foyer for 200 university students in the heart of Phnom Penh with all the material needed to succeed in their studies. Everything has been designed so that young women can study and live in the best conditions before starting work. We are now actively working on opening a second foyer right next to Happy Chandara, so that girls who come from far away can stay near the school. The foyer is currently under construction and will open later this year.
Could you share a source of inspiration for your work?
M: I first joined the association in 2011, as a volunteer, because the association’s cause speaks to me. Education is key to be successful both in your personal life and in your job. I wanted to make a difference and bring about change. Tina, our founder, has long been a source of inspiration. Toutes à l’école is her life project, she shares her time between Cambodia and France promoting the association and raising money to ensure that an increasing number of girls can access education. Here in Europe, there is nothing more normal than getting an education. Everyone goes to school. In Cambodia, it is a very different story. I like to think that by educating girls, we contribute to the future of our planet.
Enabling all girls to complete their education and develop the knowledge and skills they need for a better life is a complex task but must become a global priority. Find out more about Toutes à l’école and how you can help, both at a company and individual level, by clicking here.