Conflicting signals and potential infighting within the Trump administration is sending out contradictory reports about the Let Girls Learn program, one which is designed to help young women in low-income countries get into education, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The first memo, initially seen by CNN, was sent to Peace Corps employees on Monday by the agency’s acting director, Sheila Crowley. The program, set up by Michelle and Barack Obama back in 2015, was effectively canceled with immediate effect.
“Moving forward, we will not continue to use the Let Girls Learn brand or maintain a stand-alone program,” the email read. “We are so proud of what Let Girls Learn accomplished and we have all of you to thank for this success.”
Hours after CNN's report, the White House stepped into the fray and declared that the program was still alive and kicking. “There have been no changes to the program,” White House spokesperson Kelly Love told reporters. The earlier memo was not addressed at all.
It’s unclear as to what exactly is going on here – as ever with the Trump administration – but it’s likely the initial backlash against the program’s termination and the unavoidable political poison it was manufacturing provoked the second response. It would, after all, be incredibly vindictive to cancel this initiative, which costs little and has the noblest of aims.
Operating in at least 44 countries, Let Girls Learn just last October announced that it had gained more than $5 million in new private sector donations, alongside the funding it already gets from the federal government.
The initiative has helped to get girls into schools in Nepal, Laos, Liberia, and Morocco. A much-needed $25 million commitment from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has gone towards a teacher apprenticeship program in war-torn Afghanistan. The agency also provided $70 million towards new and ongoing programs in beleaguered Pakistan, which will benefit 200,000 adolescent girls.
These numbers may sound huge, but they're nothing when you realize that 62 million girls around the world are not educated – and the price tag for helping them is a mere drop in the ocean when you compare it to the US defense budget, for example, which in 2016 totaled $597 billion.
All things considered, the fact that Let Girls Learn is even being considered for cancellation is ludicrous. When the disadvantaged do better, their countries do better, and inevitably, everyone does better. There is no greater way of freeing women from the chains of poverty than getting them into education, and this initiative deserves to continue its admirable work.