Like many girls in Guinea-Bissau, 10-year-old Mariama Sambu has a busy life. She rises every morning at six, and helps with household chores.
There is no running water in her house so she must walk each morning to a nearby well, which was provided by UNICEF. Before, she had two walk two kilometers, which left her little time to prepare for class.
Now she arrives fully prepared, and ready to spend her morning learning. Mariama has quickly emerged as one of the top students in the village. Her journey in the classroom will likely continue after she finishes her schooling.
"I want to be a teacher, to help my mother and father, says Mariama. "That would give us an easier life."
UNICEF has been working to help girls like Mariama excel in school, by providing teacher training that helps the community embrace the idea that basic education is a right that extends to all school-age children, girls included.
The director of Mariama's school, Mossa Kieta, says the training allows teachers to overcome huge cultural obstacles.
“The big challenge here is language, because each student has a mother tongue, and when they come here, they must learn Portuguese because it is our official language," says Mr. Kieta, who has been at the school for 14 years. "This is very difficult, but with teacher training, it is possible and we are doing it."
In the past year or so, UNICEF has supported the rehabilitation of 55 rural schools, which has benefited 12,000 students. Part of that assistance comes in the form of learning materials, sanitation facilities and desks.
The end result is better lives for girls like Mariama. Less poverty and disease, more opportunities, and a fuller, richer experience that helps children become healthy, happy adults.