Healthy Girls, Healthy Villages

This lesson explores the importance of educating girls in developing countries, as well as some of the factors that traditionally limit girls’ access to education.

Through a narrated slide show, returned Peace Corps Volunteer Vivian Nguyen explains the challenges facing girls in Niger, and how a program called Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) helps provide education and life skills to prepare girls for a healthier future. Students will investigate the problems of poverty, nutrition, and health that disproportionately affect women and girls in developing countries. They will then create educational skits or games to be included in the Camp GLOW program.

Women, Girls, and Poverty

The Peace Corps has a special initiative to support girls' education, in part because fewer girls than boys are able to attend school, but also because it is a fact that girls' education is the variable most highly correlated with improvements in a society's general well-being. According to UNICEF, for every additional year of education a girl receives through primary school, the rate of infant and child mortality decreases, while the family health and economic security increases.


Niger, in West Africa, a country of 10 million people, is located in sub-Saharan Africa, south of Algeria and Libya and east of Mali. The Sahara extends into Niger's northern regions. Located close to the Equator, Niger has extremely high daytime temperatures and little rainfall in many regions. Drought is the main threat to food production, and malnutrition is a persistent health problem. According to World Bank data, Niger is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Many Peace Corps Volunteers work in rural areas of Niger to improve the nutritional status of children and pregnant women.


  • Students will identify locate Niger on a map and identify how the geography contributes to its economic and health concerns.
  • Students will use maps and graphs to gather information and make predictions.
  • Students will describe ways that issues of health and poverty have an impact on women and girls in Niger.
  • Students will explain how education and life skills training for girls in Niger can have a positive impact on the community by addressing problems of nutrition, health, and poverty.


  • Sahel region: semi-desert region of north central Africa that stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia just south of the Sahara desert
  • Savannah: a tropical or subtropical region with grasses and some trees. Water availability is determined by seasons. Savannas are typically transitional regions between deserts and forests.
  • Hausa: an ethnic group found in West Africa, particularly in southern Niger and northern Nigeria. It also refers to a language commonly spoken in those regions.
  • Mosquito net: a net that offers protection against mosquitoes, flies, and other insects, and thus protects against diseases such as malaria and yellow fever; frequently used as a tent-like covering over a bed
  • Malnutrition : insufficient or imbalanced consumption of nutrients, caused by food shortages or dietary practices that can result in illness and death
  • Customs: traditional practices and values passed down through generations
  • Sieve: a device, similar to a strainer, used to separate particles of different sizes
  • Vicious cycle: a chain of events in which the response to one difficulty creates a new problem that aggravates the original difficulty
  • Malaria: an infectious disease spread by mosquitoes, commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions
  • Poverty: the condition of not having the means to afford basic human needs such as clean water, nutrition, health care, clothing and shelter
  • Disparity: a difference or inequality 


1.Explain to students that they will learn about girls' education and how it contributes to community health. Handout the Analyzing Charts and Maps warm-up worksheet, and ask students to carefully study the resources and answer the questions. Give students about ten minutes to complete the task. If time allows, have them discuss their findings with a partner. Alternately, instead of a worksheet, you may wish to project these graphics for the whole class to view and discuss.

2. Discuss students' conclusions, and any questions they may have. Provide them with some statistics about girls and education, and explain that they will be learning more about the causes and effects of this problem in one community in Niger.


•  Worldwide, 101 million children are not attending primary school. Girls are missing out more than boys, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

•  Worldwide, four million children under the age of five die each year from malaria, diarrhea, or pneumonia. These are preventable, treatable diseases. When girls and women are educated about hygienic practices, they can lower these mortality rates.

•  Getting girls into school and ensuring that they stay and learn has what UNICEF calls a "multiplier effect." Educated girls are likely to marry later and have fewer children, who in turn will be more likely to survive and be better nourished and educated. Educated girls are more productive at home and better paid in the workplace, and more able to participate in social, economic and political decision-making.

3. Tell students that they will be learning about a girls' education program in Niger, a country in West Africa. Ask if students have heard of Niger or know anything about it. Provide some information about the culture and geography of the country (see Background Information.) Sixty-three per cent of Niger's population lives below the absolute poverty level, with women making up two-thirds of this figure. The situation of women and children is characterized by women's high fertility rate, a wide gap between men and women in terms of health, education and literacy and high maternal mortality.
If students are unfamiliar with Peace Corps, you can find more information on the website. Identify Vivian Nguyen as a Volunteer serving in Niger. Look back at the Gender Equality map, and have students find Niger. How does Niger's rate of education for girls compare to other countries'?

4.Watch the slide show Healthy Girls, Healthy Villages below. Have students fill out the viewing guide (link above) as they watch. You may wish to stop the slide show and various points to check for comprehension and answer questions. You may also wish to share the vocabulary list with students or review some of these ideas before viewing the slide show. You may also wish to provide the transcript of the slide show for students to follow along.

5. After viewing the slide show, have students work in small groups to discuss their findings and complete the viewing guide worksheet. Ask students to share what they found most interesting and surprising. Discuss the questions on the worksheet and ask students to share their ideas. Some possible talking points:

•  Chores/jobs that may seem simple to American students – collecting water, laundry, cooking, etc – are quite time-consuming and involve manual labor. Time spent on these tasks might prevent women and girls from implementing hygiene practices. It also reduces the amount of time available for women and girls to attend school or work on income generation activities.

•  Many health care issues are preventable. With education, girls and women learn how to take simple steps that reduce disease, support nutrition and hygiene, and have healthier children.

•  Many factors contribute to low school attendance rates for girls. In many rural areas, there are no schools for girls to attend. A formal education is viewed as unnecessary for the traditional roles of wife and mother. Many girls marry at a young age and begin having children.

•  The Camp GLOW activities are successful for a variety of reasons: they respect the culture and beliefs of community members, they are fun and engaging, they allow opportunities to practice important life skills, and they include teaching from professionals who are also respected community members.

6. In small groups, have students develop a skit or game that could be used by Peace Corps Volunteers in the Camp GLOW program. Students should identify a problem mentioned in the slide show, and develop a game or skit that will help educate campers about that issue. The skit or game should present a skill or practice that will help reduce the problem, and should demonstrate the positive impact on community members. Or, have students select an issue facing girls/children in their own community, and develop a skit that could be used in a school assembly to educate students about the issue and about possible solutions.

7. After students present their skit or game, review what students have learned. What are the barriers to education for girls in developing countries? How do education and life skills training impact not just girls, but the entire community? 

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • Poverty has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, particularly in rural areas.
  • Cultural attitudes and values shape the daily activities of women and girls.
  • Education and simple lifestyle changes can create a healthier, more productive future for women and girls in developing nations.

Essential Questions

  • Why does poverty particularly impact women and girls?
  • Why do improved education and life skills training for women and girls contribute to the overall health and prosperity of a society?


Social Studies

  • Thematic Strand I: Culture
  • Thematic Strand III: People, Places, and Environments
  • Thematic Strand IV: Individual Development and Identity
  • Thematic Strand IX: Global Connections 

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