“When I was a child I always wanted to go to school. I actually went very briefly, but my parents took me out so I could look after the animals. I remember asking if I could go to school and them saying to me, ‘Come on, a girl who is sent to school will just have a baby and nothing else.'
“That was the attitude in those days, that if you send a girl to school the only thing she’ll do is have a child with a boy there, without even getting married in the traditional way. So I didn’t go, and then I got married at 13.” Yeshi.
Yeshi (pictured above) was born in rural Oromia, Ethiopia. She was married and divorced before she was 18, and has spent her adult life struggling to raise three children as a single mother with meagre earnings. When she looks back on her life, she believes that most of the struggles she has faced are the result of a lack of education.
“I think if I’d been educated and my husband had been educated, we’d both have made better decisions,” she said. “We didn’t know how to manage anything, from our marriage to our property to anything.
“After I divorced I moved to this place. I was new here and I knew no one. Life was so hard, I seriously wanted to commit suicide. I think God intervened because we were OK. But at the time I just kept thinking that if I’d only been educated, I would have known how to struggle and how to survive."
Yet Yeshi did survive, and has been determined to make sure her children do not face the same struggles she endured. Despite her low income, she successfully sent both her sons through school and is adamant her daughter Firegenet (pictured below) will receive an education too.
“I don’t want my daughter to be like me. If you are educated you will have knowledge, and you will choose what’s best for you. It is more important than money. I know that a person who is educated sees the light, not the darkness.”
To make sure Firegenet can go to school, Yeshi has done whatever she could to earn money - selling food in people's homes and at the local market to make ends meet.
Through the Girls' Education Challenge, ChildHope UK and CHADET, an Ethiopian partner organisation, were able to help Firegenet with her immediate schooling costs, and Yeshi joined a community self-help and savings group to help finance her daughter's education in the long term.
"I am still in the savings group. We meet every Sunday afternoon to talk about saving money and how to change our daughter's lives as well as our own," Yeshi says.
“My children always say to me, ‘You’re not educated but you educated us."
And through her daughter’s education, she feels she is growing in knowledge and confidence herself. Firegenet has helped her mother learn to sign her name – a new skill that Yeshi performs with careful precision every time, as if her whole self belongs in that mark. Proud of her signature, she explains why it means so much, pointing out that education is a matter of identity and not just jobs and money:
“I know that many girls will leave school and not become doctors. They might just stay in rural, farming areas. But their education is still important. At least they have knowledge. At least they’re not going to use their fingers to sign.
“Because do you know, it is such a shame to use your finger for a signature? I normally have to use my finger but with Firegenet I am teaching myself to write my initials. If you’re educated, at least you can sign your name.”
The next steps for Yeshi are to keep working, keep saving, and keep her daughter in school. She hopes to expand her market business and build her own house – all to secure her daughter’s future.
“I work hard like this for her. I burn like this for her. What else do I have to work for? I work hard every day to make sure she can be educated and have a better life.
“When people are educated, they change everything. The country will improve so much when more girls of this generation are educated.”
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of each of the partners of Global Citizen.