In a recent column, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tells the unlikely story of Beatrice Biira, a Ugandan woman who just graduated from Connecticut College. Beatrice was born to rural peasants in western Uganda, and started school late because her parents were too poor to afford to pay for her studies. But the family’s fortunes changed when they received a goat donated through Heifer International by a group of children who belonged to Niantic Community Church in Connecticut. Despite being older than the other first-graders, Beatrice was committed to her studies and soon emerged as a top student. One thing led to another and Beatrice’s academic performace was rewarded with a scholarship to Connecticut College. She is the first person from her community to graduate from a university in the US. Beatrice’s story has been turned into a children’s book, and her story is featured on Heifer International’s website.
Over the last 50 or so years, the international community has committed and recommitted itself to economic development and the eradication of poverty in the developing world. Considering the persistence—indeed expansion—of extreme poverty, there is more than enough cause for pessimism with regard to the efficacy of conventional development and poverty eradication programs in Africa. Beatrice’s story is only one silver lining on a large and gloomy cloud, but it does show what can happen when a child is allowed to live up to her full potential.
Africa is home to millions of children who may never get a chance to go to school, to prove themselves academically, and to rise out of poverty. Time and again, education has proven to be a sure path out of poverty and, although the obstacles facing impoverished children are many and varied, Beatrice Biira is living proof of what can happen when a child is given a helping hand.