Eighth-grader Rosa is no stranger to hard work. She regularly helps her mother in the fields to raise additional income, plus tending the family’s own crops and livestock. And if that wasn’t enough, she also walks 30 minutes each way to school every day, scaling steep, narrow walkways, cutting through cornfields and forests, and even forging a few small creeks that she had to cross during twoyears before they finally built a bridge. “It can get really tough when I have to walk there and it’s raining, or during the fall when it gets dark really soon,” Rosa says. But she remains positive about the challenges she faces, noting that, “I really enjoy walking, as it lets me clear my mind and think of good things.”
Despite her optimism, Rosa once faced despair, sure that she would have to drop out after elementary school. She’d already come three years further than her mother, Leoncia, who only finished third grade. But thanks to the Thousand Girls Initiative program expansion, Rosa was selected to enter Cooperative for Education’s Rise Youth Development Program. “I cried a lot with pure joy when I found out that I had the opportunity to continue studying thanks to a scholarship,” says Rosa.
It was an emotional moment for Leoncia, too. A dedicated mother, she had raised Rosa and her four younger siblings singlehandedly since their father abandoned the family after a history of alcoholism and domestic violence. Beyond that, she had even built the home the family now shares with her own two hands. But middle school was going to be an entirely new kind of challenge for the family. “I felt very happy about the scholarship and the prospect of a secondary education for Rosa,” Leoncia recalls. “However, I felt very scared too. I had no experience dealing with secondary education, but I was determined to fight to make the best out of this opportunity for Rosa.”
And so in 2019, the Rise Program got Rosa back on track by allowing her to enroll in middle school…but it didn’t stop there. The following year, Rosa faced yet another unprecedented challenge when her school suspended in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “During 2020, there was much uncertainty,” Rosa recalls. “Most of our education was through written study guides and homework.” But she kept pushing through the challenges, guided by her Rise Program local facilitator. In fact, the program’s local facilitators—staff living in or near the communities they serve to provide guidance and support to students—were making more than 1,000 calls per month to Rise students in the latter half of 2020, ensuring that they were staying on track to complete their education despite the extreme challenges!
And in 2021, Rosa’s story was selected by the Obama Foundation’s Girls Opportunity Alliance (GOA) to celebrate the International Day of the Girl. Actress Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) partnered with the GOA to share Rosa’s story with her 6.8 million Instagram followers. When Leoncia learned that her daughter had been selected for this opportunity, she began crying with joy. She could not thank life and all the supporters of the Thousand Girls Initiative enough for how Rosa was now serving as an example thanks to their perseverance.
But the real reward is the brighter future this family faces. “Thanks to the scholarship and my education, I know that I will be able to have a better life,” Rosa says. “I will have access to better opportunities and hopefully a good job.” There may still be a long journey ahead of them, but Rosa and Leoncia know that with the Rise Program—and supporters like you—by their side, they aren’t walking this difficult path alone.