by Haley Priebe

This April, Girl Up’s team visited one of their programs in Ethiopia. In the Amhara region, where almost 50% of girls are married before their 15th birthday, they met girls with inspiring stories – girls who escaped child marriage to attend school and learn life skills that they can invest back into their families for years to come.

( Watch their video about how Girl Up is working to stop child marriage.)

One such girl is Sesuagno Mola.

Married at age five and a mother at age fourteen, Sesuagno was not allowed to attend school. At first, she did not even believe that she would be able to join the Girl Up-funded Berhane Hewan program, which works to support adolescent girls in the rural Amhara region.  But her husband’s family granted her permission to join the program when they learned that she would cook Injera - Ethiopian bread – there, because they reasoned she could sell the bread for extra income.<!–more–>

The program opened a door to a new life for Sesuagno, and she learned basic literacy, family planning, gardening skills, and instructions on how to improve her home. The program has also helped empower Sesuagno to take more ownership of her life. She said it was from the program that she learned that she could wait to have her next child. She beamed with pride when she said that she and her husband jointly decided to wait another five years before having their next child.

Tigist Tsegaye’s story also illustrates the pressure of child marriage and the power of education.

Fleeing an arranged marriage, Tigist left the Amhara region five years ago when she was just 14. Her parents never knew she was leaving. She had heard about opportunities in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa and traveled there by bus. Knowing no one in the city when she was dropped off at the bus station, she was soon found by brokers who connected her to an employer in need of a house girl.

For the last five years, Tigist has been living in the Merkato slum area working as a domestic servant and selling fried potatoes, earning a few cents every day. She does not fear dying, but fears getting sick because she has no one to take care of her.

But one year ago her life changed. A mentor convinced her employers to let her attend the Biruh Tesfa school, a program supported by Girl Up that provides out-of-school girls a safe place to become educated, learn life skills, and receive health education and services. Now with just six months left in the program, Tigist’s eyes light up talking about how much she has learned. She dreams of becoming an engineer.

Sesuagno and Tigist represent so many girls who face child marriage, and while their stories and circumstances are very different, it is clear that education provides them both with a brighter future. To help reach President Obama with this message, sign the Girl Up ** Petition to Stop Child Marriage**.