Kakata – US First Lady Michelle Obama urged girls in Liberia on Monday to fight to stay in school, as she visited the west African country where the vast majority drop out due to financial pressures.
Obama launched her “Let Girls Learn” education initiative in March 2015, and has since travelled the globe to call for greater support for the millions of girls kept away from school or forced to abandon their studies.
Obama met girls and young women at a project named Glow (Girls Leading Our World) aimed at boosting active citizenship, run by the US Peace Corps in Kakata, east of the coastal capital.
Speaking about the value of women’s leadership and access to education, the Harvard-trained lawyer said she was “here to shine a big bright light on you”.
“I want you to keep fighting and stay in school,” she told the girls.
She was accompanied by her two daughters Malia, 17, and Sasha, 15.
Her venture has particular poignance in Liberia, where just 37% of 15 to 24-year-old girls are literate, according to UN figures, and enrolment at the secondary level hovers close to 40%, with real participation much lower.
She was also due to visit a school in Unification Town, further inland.
The school stop would see the First Lady hold a discussion with adolescent girls “who have faced serious obstacles in attaining an education”, according to a White House statement.
The United States Agency for International Development (USaid) meanwhile announced on Monday millions more dollars of funding would be made available to support the Let Girls Learn Initiative in Liberia.
Sheldon Yett, Unicef representative for Liberia, told AFP many parents see school as a luxury they can ill afford.
“Often families see it as a cost, losing labour by sending children to school,” Yett said.
And for female pupils in particular, “roughly half of schools don’t even half basic sanitation, so that’s a particular issue for girls”, he added.
About 62 million girls around the world, half of them adolescents, are not in school.
Obama will continue her tour in Morocco on June 28 and 29, accompanied by actress Meryl Streep, to participate in a conversation with adolescent girls.
She will deliver a speech in Madrid on June 30 about the education initiative before meeting Spain’s Queen Letizia.