Sonia Sukdeo, Education Specialist and Gender Focal Point with UNICEF Madagascar, recently visited the U.S. Fund for UNICEF office in New York. Jessica Luckett, intern with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Program Office, attended. This is what she learned.
Recently I had theÂ amazing opportunity to meet Sonia Sukdeo, Education Specialist and Gender Focal Point with UNICEF Madagascar. During a staff discussion, Sonia shared with us information about Madagascar and what UNICEF is doing there to ensure that all children have an opportunity at a healthy and productive life.
For many of us who are fortunate enough to live in a developed country, Madagascar is an afterthought, tourist destination, or the title of anÂ animated movie. However, the political, social and economic issues of the Madagascan people are very real.
The fourth-largest island in the world
Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth-largest island in the world and includes numerous smaller peripheral islands. Although known for its rich cultural heritage and unique biodiversity, over 76% of the population lives below the poverty line; 56% of these individuals live in extremely poor conditions. Foreign development assistance supports 40% of the government budget.Â The islandâ€™s unstable political climate and frequent natural disasters (mostly cyclones and tornados) contribute to the poverty levels due to the governmentâ€™s limited ability to respond.Â Similar to many countries with this rate of poverty, Madagascar is susceptible to high levels of illiteracy, sex-trafficking of children, child marriage and cultural gender discrimination.
While Madagascar has been progressing toward universal primary education for all, the coup dâ€™Ă©tat of 2009, the current absence of an official government, and allegations of corruption have left the country in a state of uncertainty. UNICEF has been integral in ensuring that the children of Madagascar continue to have access to quality education.
The primary goal of UNICEFâ€™s Education Equity Approach in Madagascar is to provide financial and technical support to sustain the education system and ensure that schooling continues. UNICEF provides teacher training and development, teacher payment, sanitation, education supplies, and the construction of cyclone-proof classrooms.Â As a Hurricane Katrina survivor, I definitely understand the importance of efficient and expedient emergency operations. Recovery can be a very long and painful process.Â Thankfully, UNICEF has developed a series of emergency interventions to ensure that children can return to school promptly after natural disasters.
Through UNICEFâ€™s work and with the help of donors and global partners, access to early childhood development programs in Madagascar is projected to rise from 7% in 2008 to 20% in 2013. UNICEF is also working with local communities to provide education on sanitation and improving the quality of education for young girls and boys.
Keeping girls in school
Nonetheless, overcoming cultural and social barriers that limit educational opportunities for young girls is incredibly difficult.Â By age 12, most girls are involved in child labor or are married, and many are victims of child prostitution.Â If families do have the funds to send their children to school, they will most likely send just the young boys.Â Furthermore, girls who travel long distances by foot to get to school live in constant fear that they will be attacked or forcibly sold into child prostitution. UNICEF is working to meet these issues head-on by providing scholarships, bicycles as a safe form of transportation, and dormitory access to qualified girls.
UNICEFâ€™s efforts do not stop there.Â To promote awareness of the importance of educating girls, UNICEF launched a communication and advocacy campaign in all seven regions of Madagascar. In Antananarivo and Toliari, dozens of police officers have been trained to assist children and ensure that their rights are protected.
After listening to Sonia Sudekoâ€™s passionate and insightful presentation, I was again impressed by the work of UNICEF, butÂ also realized that there is still much more to be done for children in Madagascar. If you would like to support UNICEF’s education programs in Madagascar, you can donate to UNICEF’s Education and Equity initiatives in Madagascar.