A Charity Meghan and Harry 'Strongly Believe in' Just Got Big News That Will 'Lift Up' Girls Through Education
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have amplified the work of the Campaign for Female Education for years, matching a $130,000 donation last September and encouraging supporters to donate to CAMFED in lieu of gifts when their daughter Lilibet Diana was born in June. Now the organization — which works to help young girls start school and see through their education — has received critical funding in the form of the $2.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
"We are super excited because there are now additional resources for us to be able to do what we've always done and to be able to get more scale and support more learners," Executive Director Angie Murimirwa tells PEOPLE of CAMFED's work across five countries in Africa.
The Prize, which will be handed out virtually on October 13, enables CAMFED to expand its efforts and "bring girls' education back on the agenda at a critical time such as this," she adds. "This prize allows us to shine a bright light on ... supporting the next generation of girls — and, of course, boys — [being] able to go to school."
Murimirwa met Harry when he visited Zambia in 2018 and sat with Meghan at an International Women's Day event in London the following year. The royals "strongly believe in what [we] do," she says. "We've continued to engage with them and interact with their team. They echo their voice with us."
Murimirwa was among the first 32 young women in Zimbabwe who were supported by CAMFED. She now heads up a network of 178,000 change-makers who have helped millions of girls in more than 6,000 schools across Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. CAMFED also has a long-term strategic aim of reaching a target of five million girls supported by the end of 2025.
"Every day — especially in this devastating pandemic period — my sisters are on the frontline, deploying their expertise and galvanizing community support around the most vulnerable," Murimirwa tells PEOPLE.
This past year and a half has been particularly trying, with increased pressure for young girls to help out at homes (which often aren't headed by an immediate parent) or go out to work.
"COVID has been brutal," she admits. "One of the worst things that it has done is it is further deepen inequality and inequity across communities."
She notes that virtual education has been a particular challenge, as many villages lack the resources and hardware to access schooling. But she says local ambassadors — teachers, nurses, doctor and lawyers — have met the challenge, working tirelessly in their communities to support girls' education.
"We had young women who were using their own smartphones to get content and hold social-distance study groups in the villages to be able to show that children were not losing learning, but also to respond to any child protection issues," she reports.
They have seen encouraging results, retaining 90% attendance in the schools in which they work — far above the national averages. Says Murimirwa, "I think it's all down to the fact that there were people who were immediate to these children that could continue to support them to navigate the inequalities."
Of course, there is always more work to be done, with CAMFED aiming to create 150,000 new jobs and help 50,000 young women start businesses.
As she looks forward to all that can and must be done to achieve those aims, Murimirwa tells PEOPLE, "I believe firmly that this is something that we'll be doing with [Harry and Meghan] for a very long time. For as long as these girls are out of school and the young need a lift up, I'm sure that we'll be doing this together with them for the future."
Influential partners will be essential in helping CAMFED provide a "continuous reminder to everybody on the value of education, but also the fact that this is an investment — because it multiplies" as young women help others behind them.
CAMFED and the royals have "mutual interests in terms of supporting and advancing young people and ... raising voices for those that are in the margins," says Murimirwa, who adds that both are working to "support people with dignity and with pride and allow them to be able to speak for themselves."
The goal, she emphasizes, is "to lift up rather than [give a] hand up."