Meet Amira Sidhom Habib, a graduate of the Mahras Springboard Girls School in El Minya, a small village in Upper Egypt. Her school is one of 201 Apache built and has supported since founding Springboard in 2004. Amira has broken barriers for not only her village, but for her gender.
Upper Egypt is a vast farming region, where access to clean drinking water and electricity is scarce and obtaining an education is a luxury. Families rely on every child to work to help generate income, so it’s not common for young boys and girls to attend school regularly. The thought of moving to a big city for higher education isn’t even considered as a possibility by many young children, especially young girls.
Amira began her journey at Springboard in 2005 when she was eight years old. One of seven children, Amira, was encouraged to join the school by her family, and specifically, her older sister, who had never received an education. Amira spent the next six years learning to read and write among other essential foundational skills. During this time, she faced social challenges outside of Springboard’s four walls. Many of her friends, still young girls, never pursued an education. Or, if they had, they left school to get married or to work in farming or the clothing industry. Amira made a brave choice. She had a dream to be in the medical field one day, so she pursued her education.
Amira joined a secondary school in El Minya where she exceled. She graduated with a 93% overall score. Although high, her score wasn’t enough to join the department of medicine at Cairo University. So instead, she joined the faculty of science, with a focus on biotechnology. Eventually, she received a scholarship and moved away from her village to Cairo, even studying in the United States at California State University. Amira seized these incredible opportunities to work with instructors, collaborate with her peers, and develop her personal and professional knowledge and skills. Today, she is in her final semester as a full-time student at the University of Cairo, working every day to achieve her dreams.
Springboard schools are not like most village or community education institutes. Originally open only to girls, after 2011, admission was extended to boys up to 5% of admissions. Springboard encourages any girl, no matter her age, to attend. Teachers push their students to learn, encourage hobbies, and develop their talents in a safe environment.
Amira looks fondly back at her time there. She says she wouldn’t change a thing. When asked what her favorite memory is, she said, “Honestly every day was the best. From morning assembly, the ongoing encouragement to learn English; the safe space to develop hobbies and express myself; our trips and studying; I appreciated every moment.”
Amira believes Springboard changed her life. “It gave me the chance to become a university student rather than working in the same community for my whole life,” she said.
As a young girl, Amira looked up to a woman in her village who learned to read and write and eventually opened a stationary shop, joined a technical school, and went on to university. This woman now spreads awareness to other villagers about a future beyond working the land. Amira saw this woman’s success as something she could obtain, too.
Amira credits her success to the education foundation and support she received from Springboard. Because of the encouragement from her teachers and family, Amira has conquered the hardships many in her village face. Her will to learn and become educated has led her to where she is today.
Following in the footsteps of her first role model, Dr. Magdy Yacoub, one of the world’s leading heart surgeons, Amira chose biotechnology because she wants to study DNA and cancer, as she has several family members diagnosed with the disease.
In the future, Amira would love to work in a hospital helping patients. She wants to travel abroad, own a car and apartment, and have her family move to Cairo.
Amira is one of approximately 15,000 girl graduates of a Springboard school. While Amira’s educational journey might sound typical in the United States or the United Kingdom, it is not the norm for a woman from Upper Egypt. Amira’s journey proves education can change lives and offers this advice to other young girls, especially from her village: “Educate yourself, it will change your mind and your way of thinking. Age is just a number. Create opportunities for yourself. Work to be successful and be happy for that success. You will find that people are happy for you. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you on a plate; work hard and you will succeed.”
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