The Feminist Paramount Chief: Why Girls Must Go to School

PC CaulkerFor years, the longtime traditional leader of Bumpeh Chiefdom dreamed of ways life could improve for its 44,000 rural residents.

Most of Paramount Chief Charles Caulker’s chiefdom is made up of small, inaccessible villages of 200-500 people, living a subsistence farming existence scarcely changed in 100 years. These are among the poorest people in the world, living on $1 a day. It’s hard to ever get ahead and break the cycle of poverty on $1 a day.

For Chief Caulker, one fundamental is key:  girls must go to school.

Today, only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of girls in his chiefdom make it to secondary school. If it became the norm, he believes his chiefdom’s and the country’s culture – and fortunes – would change.

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“With education, women can assert themselves and can get their own jobs, or start or expand their own small businesses. They’ll take their own decisions,’’ Chief Caulker told us during a recent discussion about the importance of Sherbro Foundation’s Girls Scholarship Program.

Chief Caulker is emphatic: “There’s a growing understanding that educating girls brings more benefit to the family than educating boys.

IMG_0411“Girls are more serious and work harder. They get better jobs. They take their family responsibilities seriously, and ensure their children and parents are taken care of.

“Women are more industrious,’’ he explained bluntly. “As Rotifunk grows and business opportunities open up, women will be the ones to start restaurants, shops and expanded markets for the growing middle class.”

And if girls aren’t educated?

“Women in rural Sierra Leone continue to suffer indignities dictated by outdated customary practices and unenlightened male chauvinism,’’ Chief Caulker says.

What kind of indignities do women suffer, we asked. We got an earful.

IMG_3559 - Copy“Women do 70 percent of the work on the family farm but are not allowed to make decisions on running the farm or selling crops. Their husband controls the money and may carelessly spend it on himself for things like gambling with his friends,” he said frankly.

“The woman is up at dawn and making a fire to warm bath water for her husband and reheat food for breakfast, if they have it. When going to work on the farm, pregnant women can be seen carrying loads on their head and another baby on their back. Her husband may accompany her to the farm without helping carry anything, do a couple hours work and return home to sit out the rest of the day.

IMG_3174“His wife returns late in the day as the sun is going down. She may still need to go buy fresh produce and collect firewood and water before making a fire to cook the family dinner. Her husband will then expect her to have sex that night and she can’t refuse.”

That is rural life as it has been for hundreds of years. “Women are treated like beasts of burden,” Chief Caulker says.

“Today by 14 or 15, girls not in school are seen as grown up and ready to work and get married. If they marry, it means their family has one less mouth to feed.”

But with our help, we can send – and keep – more girls in school.  They will be able to avoid early marriage and dangerous early pregnancies.

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Chief Caulker is determined to empower parents to send their children beyond primary school and get a good education. “With education, women will be more enlightened and understand their rights.” They’ll act on these rights, to the benefit of the whole chiefdom.

Chief Caulker is grateful for Sherbro Foundation’s goal to send 300 Bumpeh Chiefdom girls to secondary school this year.  He sees these girls as the future of his chiefdom.

Help us meet this goal and send a girl to school:  DONATE HERE

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