Inside Rihanna’s Humanitarian Trip to Malawi for Education
"It's one thing to read statistics, but I want to see it firsthand."
Rihanna has jumped right into her role as Global Ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education.
The singer and artist traveled with GPE in January on an educational trip to Malawi, where she visited schools to meet students, teachers, government officials, and mentors to better understand the issues and challenges surrounding education.
Rihanna traveled with former Australian Prime Minister and GPE Chairperson Julia Gillard and Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans.
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The trio visited the Muzu Primary School on the outskirts of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, and the Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, where they went to math and biology classes. They also watched a student debate on arranged marriage.
Rihanna met with education experts, talked with children, and lead them through singing and learning exercises.
“I’m really here to see it,” Rihanna said. “It’s one thing to read statistics, but I want to see it firsthand, and find out all that can be done and where to start first.”
Half of the Malawi population lives below the poverty line and the average income is around 90 cents a day.
Classrooms sometimes have as many as 100 students with just one teacher. It’s harder for students to succeed in classes that big and they are at greater risk of dropping out.
“It’s such a pity that they have to drop out because they are so smart and everybody is learning together and learning at the same pace it seems. It’s sad that has to end for some of them because they could probably do so much if they had the resources to continue and complete.
Another challenge is food — many students come to school without having eaten yet, and meals aren’t provided at school.
Rihanna became an ambassador for GPE in September 2016 after hearing the stunning statistics around refugees — there are 17 million school-aged children who are refugees or displaced due to conflict. Globally, there are 75 million children age 3 to 18 who live in countries facing war and violence, where education is threatened, according to GPE.
This isn’t Rihanna’s first act of education advocacy. She founded the Clara Lionel Foundation in 2012 — named after her grandparents — as a way to give back to the world.
The Clara Lionel Foundation’s mission is to improve education, health, arts and culture in communities around the world.
Currently, the foundation provides micro grants to schools in Barbados, Rihanna’s home country, where it has also established the Clara Brathwaite Center for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine. The singer’s foundation also awards scholarships to bright, motivated students from Barbados, Cuba, Haiti, and other countries to attend college in the US.
Rihanna also recently got the president of France to commit more funds to the Education Cannot Wait fund.
Ahead of the 2016 Global Citizen Festival in New York City, which Rihanna headlined, the Barbados native decided to give France’s President Francois Hollande a little nudge when his government was slow to respond to Global Citizens. And of course, it worked. Hollande tweeted back that education was indeed his No. 1 priority and committed $2 million to global education.
Rihanna's already accomplished a good deal for education — and we can't wait to see what she does next in this new role.