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What are the biggest barriers to educating girls around the globe?

A new U.S. government effort in partnership with the Peace Corps is aimed at educating the 62 million girls around the world who do not attend school. The initiative, called the Let Girls Learn program, will train volunteers to support locals in becoming champions for girls’ education. Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss the new program.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now a look at a new initiative announced today at the White House, to increase the educational opportunities for girls around the world.

    Jeffrey Brown is back with that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Sixty million, that's the number of girls around the world who do not attend school, according to President and Mrs. Obama, who today announced a new U.S. government effort to help.

    It builds on a program called Let Girls Learn and increases the training received by Peace Corps volunteers and supports local initiatives aimed at educating girls, beginning first in 11 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia and eventually phased in globally.

    Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet joins us now.

    Welcome to you.

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET, Director, Peace Corps:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Are the biggest barriers here physical or cultural?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    You know, they could — there are many different kinds of barriers.

    They could be physical. It might be that there is not a school for 10 or 15 miles, and so it may be unsafe for a girl to walk to and fro. It may be that there are cultural barriers. Perhaps girls' education is not valued because the family doesn't seen an economic return.

    It could be that girls are getting married too early, and once they're married, it's not considered proper to attend school. Or it could even be economic. They can't afford the school fees or books or uniforms.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So when you have got such a wide range of issues, what specifically do you want to tackle?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    Well, one of the reasons we're so excited about President and Mrs. Obama's commitment to girls' education and specifically the partnership with Peace Corps is because we have learned that the best solutions to girls' education are really community-based.

    And that's where Peace Corps volunteers come in, because we are working at the very last mile of development, living and working in communities. We know these girls' families. We know the local leaders. And so we can be in a powerful position to advocate and support girls' education.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so, the initiative talks about retraining Peace Corps volunteers. Retraining for what? What does that mean?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    We're training volunteers so that they in turn can train local leaders to become champions for girls' education.

    And let me just tell you what that means. For example, Peace Corps volunteers can sit down with a school principal or administrators and talk about why it's important for girls who are married or pregnant to continue on in school. Or they can sit down with religious leaders or local leaders and talk about why it's so important to delay marriage until after graduation. Or they can sit down with family and say — you know, ask them about — or to tell them about why it's so important for girls to be educated because it does represent a strong return on investment.

    And then they can talk to the girls themselves and find out the real barriers that they face in their lives.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Does this involve new resources? Is there new money coming in? Do you envision, for example, building schools?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    We will not build schools, but we may work in schools that others build.

    But what this is actually doing for us is that we're mobilizing all of our volunteers around the world, starting first in 11 countries. But we're going to be training our volunteers to be powerful advocates for girls' education and really working with their communities to identify locally led solutions.

    Peace Corps volunteers are already catalyst for actions at the community level. But they will be focusing all their energy on girls' education and empowering girls.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Is there a model or an example that you point to if you want to say, here's what we want to do, here's what I want to multiply over the coming years?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    Well, I would love to illustrate it with a story.

    And this is the story of Charlene and Kristen (ph). Charlene was the girl who — the young woman who introduced the president today.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    At the ceremony today?

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    Exactly.

    And Charlene and Kristen were teachers in Liberia. And the first day they walked into the school, they identified two things, first of all, that the boys outnumbered the girl two to one. So that meant that half of those girls' female peers were not at school. And the second thing they noticed is that girls were really not thriving in the classroom. They were shy. They were intimidated. They were not participating.

    And so Kristen and Charlene, along with the Liberian teacher, started an after-school program that became just a powerful place, a safe place for girls to talk about the difficulties they faced in their lives, the barriers to learning. They gained new confidence. They gained new study skills. They saw themselves as leaders. They began to imagine a brighter future for themselves. And they are powerful girls now who are very, very motivated to make a difference in their community.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Is this not, though, ultimately up to the governments, the other governments? I mean, one wonders how much could the U.S. push to make this kind of change from the outside, because we have also seen a lot of backlash when the West and the U.S. tries to emphasize…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    Most of our partner governments are very supportive of girls' education. And Liberia is a perfect example.

    President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf really is a powerful advocate for girls' education. She saw what a difference it made in her own life.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But do you see pushback as well around the — I mean, we do see it in…

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    There are in some places, not in the places where Peace Corps works, because we work in places where our volunteers can be safe.

    So most of the places where we work actually have a more progressive attitude toward girls' education. It's really a question of getting down into the community.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Carrie Hessler-Radelet of the Peace Corps, thank you so much.

  • CARRIE HESSLER-RADELET:

    Thank you so much.

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