Foundations Don’t Know What They’re Missing

Evelyne Keomian is a solopreneur who founded Karat School Project, an education nonprofit serving children in the Ivory Coast

Evelyne Keomian, Founder of Karat School Project:

My dream is to not see any child anywhere in the world selling on the street or working for a meal instead of going to school. It’s possible. One of the girls we took on at our school in the Ivory Coast was maybe 4 or 5 years old. I had organized a women’s rights education day. We met her mother. The goal was to inform parents about the basic right of the child to receive an education and let them know that I had worked with donors to make that possible. Sign up fees and buying school supplies doesn’t add up to a lot but for these people it stops them from registering (their children) for school. Parents send their girls to the street (to sell things) because girls are more productive (than boys). (One mother who has a 10 year old girl and a 12 year old boy told me: On a typical day they go out and sell oranges at the traffic lights. That’s how they provide for the family. Every single day the boy puts his basket down and goes and plays soccer. The girl sells all of hers and then picks up the boy’s basket and sells all of this. So when you ask me to give you that girl I’m losing the income for my house.) Girls become an essential breadwinner in the house. So fathers will say to the mothers, “Girls don’t have to go to school. Let’s send the boys to school.” I tell them, “Your daughters as well as your sons have a right to go to school.” “

“So this mother came on that day and registered her kids. We called her to come in and meet with us. She had 2 kids. I didn’t have the funds (for both) so told her I could only afford to take one. I asked her to pick which child she wants us to take that year. She volunteered her daughter. It was a bit strange because the boy was a year older than her daughter. I asked, “Why do you want it to be her?” (She said), “I want you to save her from getting burned.” I asked, “What do you mean?” She and her daughter help at a charcoal making farm. They get up super early, help with the wood and fire. She gets paid in charcoal and sells it in town to make money to buy food. To make charcoal in third word countries they cut young trees, make these long towels and put something flammable on it. It burns for a certain amount of time, lights on fire, and charcoal comes out of it. Your skin gets burned standing so close to these big fires. You can tell by her skin tone– literally as dark as charcoal.”

“I’m very saddened about what’s going to happen to girls after this (coronavirus) crisis. How many girls are not going to go back to school next year because they need to provide for their families? How can I get these girls into classrooms? I’m afraid that the world will miss out on how amazing it could be because we’re not tapping into the potential of girls by not educating them. Look at the young girl who is a climate activist. Imagine how many of these young girls are out there. How many Oprahs & Mandelas are missing out because they don’t know how to read and write? It’s not just that THEY’RE missing out, it’s the world. If I can get even 10 of these girls educated….To the parents of these girls I would say: Yes you are going to be a little more hungry right now. But I can guarantee you that if this girl receives just a minimum of 6 years of education she will change your life and the life of your future generations to come. If you think your children and grandchildren are worth all of you eating a little less today then you should let me take your daughter.”

“Being the voice of those that I’m supposed to be the voice for…I have the privilege of being that voice but sometimes I feel like I’m not doing that. We’ve been supported by individual donors so far. Every time I get turned down for a grant. It’s mostly from my inability to relate what we are doing to the foundations. They’re looking for things that are extremely well written. The fancy stuff. I guess we’re not meeting the criteria but if you look at us–we are doing the work. The missions are aligned. Why else would we be turned down?”

“When the COVID-19 crisis started it became almost crippling to generate ads and posts that could relate the wonderful work we do, bring a bit of joy, and compel our audience to our cause and mission. I turned to my brainstorming family for help. Since we did our session, I literally go back to my notes or remember the voices of people on there to find the beauty in what we do. As a solopreneur you can oftentimes have these ideas but get stuck or not know where to take it. Knowing I have a community to take it to–a safe place, no judgement, no one is trying to steal your idea. It’s an extra power to have this. I think of you guys as my people.”


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