Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
RESULTS Jacksonville, a local chapter of the national non-profit RESULTS, hosted its first meeting on Friday, November 3. The headliner was guest speaker Selmawit Adugna Bekele, an education and gender activist and Ethiopian United Nations representative.
RESULTS is a non-partisan organization that “focuses on changing the system that puts people in positions of poverty by advocating to local and national government for changes,” according to Amanda Beals, RESULTS’ grassroots expansion officer. One of the group’s primary concerns is providing universal access to education for children in developing countries.
“I got to achieve what I wanted to achieve because of my education,” Bekele, who has degrees in both economic development and gender studies, said.
Bekele was born in raised in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and moved to the United States four years ago. A majority of Ethiopians live below the poverty line, meaning they make less than $1.25 per day, and cannot afford schooling for their children. Bekele’s family was fortunate in that she and her siblings were able to attend school.
“Both of my parents are educated, and they really prioritized our education,” Bekele said. “I had a neighbor who got polio. He never got the vaccine. He’s paralyzed now. But, because my mother is a nurse, I got the vaccine. The only thing that kept me from being a statistic was her education.”
After graduating college in Ethiopia, Bekele began teaching primary school, where she saw firsthand the hardships facing impoverished families: many of her students could not afford the pencils, paper and other school supplies necessary for their education. Young female students particularly struggled.
According to Bekele, there are 263 million children around the world who do not attend school, and many of them are girls. Girls who are not in school are more susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDS, being victims of street violence, human trafficking, child marriage and teen pregnancy and are more likely to die in childbirth and have children who die before the age of five. In South Sudan, a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish secondary school.
Bekele is currently the U.N. representative for the Moremi Initiative, a Ghana-based, pan-African organization that meets with local African leaders to work together to prevent child marriage and other issues that affect children’s ability to go to school.
One program that Bekele and RESULTS work closely with is the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which pairs developing countries and donor countries together with the goal of improving access to education. The member country, like Ethiopia or Kenya, devotes 20% of it national budget to education. If more funds are needed, the donor country, such as the U.S., the U.K., or Australia, “fill in the gaps.”
Programs for each country are tailored based on the country’s needs, Bekele explained. In Ethiopia, where the lack of physical school buildings and supplies are the main concern, GPE works to build schools and provide students with a sufficient environment. In Kenya, many girls cannot attend school while they are on their periods, because they do not have access to sanitary pads and menstrual supplies, so the GPE allocates funds for providing those materials. Other countries have instituted meal programs to combat malnutrition, which Beals says is a factor that keeps many children out of school.
The GPE is currently active in 65 countries and hopes to expand to over 80 countries in the next year.
“I am closer to the issues than any of the experts out there,” Bekele said when asked about why she got involved in her career of activism and politics, “[and] big passion makes more progress than facts and numbers.”
JSU’s RESULTS chapter formed in August 2017. It is now one of three chapters in the state; the other two are in Birmingham in Huntsville. Membership is open to students, faculty, staff and community members. Sociology professor Dr. Tina Deshotels is the faculty sponsor for the group; Allie Mosey serves as the community representative, and Kristen Carlisle serves as the campus representative. For more information on RESULTS, visit results.org, and for information on joining JSU’s chapter, contact Deshotels at email@example.com or Carlisle at firstname.lastname@example.org or see the group’s Facebook page: RESULTS Jacksonville.