A letter from Jan Heckler in Madagascar
Fara leaves the side of her parents crying and runs outside in disappointment. Hery ("Hee-ree") and Vony ("Voo-nee") have just told Fara that, after just five years of school—despite her good grades through the fifth grade—her education is now over.
Fara runs to be alone with her shock and her pain as she begins to brood over what her life will be like without school, without an education. She cries, dropping her head into her hands. And she was just getting to enjoy reading, too!
Because Fara is ready for the 6th grade, she has reached the end of her own school’s offered grades. Her rural village in Madagascar, Tanimarina, like many, has no school beyond the primary grades.
And the closest secondary school is more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) away in Moramanga. This is too far to travel every day, even too far for once a week given the level of poverty of her family. Because it is too dangerous for such a young girl to go on her own, her parents, like so many other couples on this island nation, necessarily decide to keep her back.
What will become of Fara, they wonder? Maybe she will become interested in working in the rice paddies?
Or, perhaps one day Fara could open a shop (though there is no money for this and there are already too many such shops in Tanimarina with its level of commerce). They can only shake their heads. What else can they do?
This most regrettable story is replayed thousands of times each year in Madagascar as young girls complete their primary schooling only to learn there is no future for them in school. This means their lives will be spent doing whatever they can find in their home villages—instead of reaching their true potential. PC(USA)’s partner church in Madagascar, the Church of Jesus Christ (or FJKM as it is known locally), is trying to change this.
FJKM is making this effort through their Women’s Guild, which is called Dorkasy.* Dorkasy equips women to be leaders in church and society and faithful witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It does its work through seminars and workshops, prayer and organizational meetings, Bible study, and longer-term service projects at both regional and national levels.
*Dorcas was a disciple in Joppa who devoted her life to doing good works and acts of charity for others. She fell ill and died around the time that the Apostle Peter came to town. The many who loved Dorcas and now mourned her loss sought Peter for help. After arriving, Peter prayed for the return of Dorcas’ life. God answered Peter’s prayers by bringing Dorcas back to life (Acts 9:36-43). The Greek name Dorkas refers to a gazelle, the graceful, especially swift antelope native to Africa and Asia.
As part of its commitment to preparing young women for life, Dorkasy has addressed the problem described above by deciding to establish boarding homes throughout Madagascar in which rural secondary school girls can live while finishing their secondary education. Gazela is the flagship for this program. It is being built in Moramanga and Dorkasy hopes to open it for operation this September.
Although boys’ exclusion is also quite naturally a concern, the paramount issues are found most often with the girls as they experience a disproportionate share of abuse, rape, oppression, sex trafficking, etc., as a result of early departure from school especially when in a larger city and are without their families. It is for these reasons that Dorkasy focused its precious resources here first.
Moramanga is about 120 miles east of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital. It was selected as the site of this first, flagship home since it has large numbers of young women needing to come to town from the surrounding rural areas to study. There are as well other factors that could interfere with disciplined study.
Construction of Gazela was funded in part by a grant from the PC(USA)’s own Presbyterian Women. Gazela will use Christ-centered strategies to address core issues affecting girls and young women. It hopes to improve their academic achievement while enhancing opportunities to pursue higher education. It intends to accomplish these things in a safe and nurturing environment while upholding basic Christian values.
I was honored recently to attend a Dorkasy Executive Committee day trip to Gazela to help prepare for its opening. Construction was right on schedule as measured by the plan required by the committee from the contractor. Plans for furnishing the home and an upcoming promotional event were also discussed.
Despite a number of obstacles that have threatened the program since its start more than two years ago, Dorkasy and the women I met have faced each of these challenges with faith and inspired determination.
The women of Dorkasy remain undismayed by these trials and have, so far, overcome each of them. A combination of forces has combined to date to wield a problem-overcoming capacity greater than the sum of individual parts.
There have been the Dorkasy women’s own considerable hard work and creative ideas, the contributions of time, talent and money from the FJKM membership throughout Madagascar, the partnering grant from the PC(USA)’s Presbyterian Women, and of course the Lord’s Spirit at work in us all combining to overcome each barrier as it was identified.
According to Dorkasy president Rev. Veromalala, however, the last hurdle before them may be their biggest yet—Gazela is short of funds needed for the first year’s operation by $46,729. Still, they are praying for a miracle—that people will hear about them and this pivotal flagship effort that has such important national implications for school-aged girls and find a way to help.
They are counting on this first home to convince people in Madagascar to support the project even more than they already have. It is, after all, a new idea that has not been tried here before.
You, kind reader, have placed me and my Presbyterian (U.S.A.) colleagues in this faraway land. When you support us, you participate in the Great Commission and join hands with people like Dorkasy in all that the Spirit moves us to do in His name. I do what I do through your support and without it, no mission would be possible.
So, please consider becoming even more engaged with our mission here. I invite you to take part in it. And, if you would also like to help Dorkasy with the Gazela program, please contact me (email@example.com) and I will provide you various options from which you may choose.
In any case, please pray. Please pray for peace in this country and for the success of our mission here. Please also pray for Dorkasy that their prayers for the flagship boarding school, Gazela will be answered. Thank you so much!
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Madagascar, p. 110
Editor's note: Jan has provided additional information about the importance of the education of girls:
The success of girls in school has been widely recognized as a key element for development (at least of free nations), apparently more so than for boys. As quoted in D. Greenberg, Women and Literacy (http://www.litwomen.org/Research/Greenberg.html):
Girls’ education and the promotion of gender equality in education are vital to development. . . . Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments (including):
• Reducing child and maternal mortality
• Improving child nutrition and health
• Lowering fertility rates
• Enhancing women’s domestic and political roles in society
• Improving economic growth and productivity
• Protecting girls from abuse, exploitation, and HIV/AIDS
And more highly educated women produce higher participation rates in their children's schooling.
The World Bank (Opening Doors: Education and the World Bank. The World Bank Human Development Network—www.worldbank.org/education) has further refined its conclusions that girls’ education is crucial to development since:
• Even one year of schooling for the mother reduces child mortality by about 10 percent.
• An additional year of female education reduces the total fertility rate by 0.23 births.
• An increase of 1 percentage point in the share of women with secondary education is estimated to raise per capita income by 0.3 percentage points.
• Education increases women’s productivity and participation in the work force.
• Educated women are better able to use environmentally friendly technologies.