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Ann Cot­ton knows that poverty is the great­est bar­rier to ac­cess­ing ed­u­ca­tion in the com­mu­ni­ties of sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

The UK-based ac­tivist walked away with the cov­eted $500,000 (QR1,820,000) ‘ WISE Prize this year – a Nobel for Ed­u­ca­tion – for her out­stand­ing Cam­paign for Fe­male Ed­u­ca­tion (Camfed) that pro­vides mil­lions of un­der­priv­i­leged girls in sub- Sa­ha­ran Africa ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion. HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser pre­sented the award to Cot­ton at the sixth World In­no­va­tion Sum­mit for Ed­u­ca­tion ( WISE).

“I want to ded­i­cate this prize to all those girls in Africa who were able to ex­er­cise their right to ed­u­ca­tion and to those girls who, even as we sit here, fetch and carry wa­ter and wood and have no idea that the WISE prize is go­ing to change their life,” said Cot­ton on re­ceiv­ing the award. In the coun­tries in which Campfed works, suc­cess wouldn't have been pos­si­ble with­out the pas­sion and en­ergy of the com­mu­ni­ties, for all of whom “ed­u­ca­tion is such an as­pi­ra­tion”. “No fam­ily ever turns down an of­fer to send their daugh­ters to school,” she says.

“At a per­sonal level it is an in­cred­i­ble hon­our, and this is such an op­por­tu­nity for girls' ed­u­ca­tion and for so many more peo­ple, in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als to know about the cause. We have com­mit­ted to support one thou­sand more girls in sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion over the next five years in Africa. We be­lieve that sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion is ab­so­lutely fun­da­men­tal," she said. “Just imag­ine th­ese girls, all of whom are from a back­ground of ru­ral poverty; all who un­der­stand the anx­i­ety and the frus­tra­tions of poverty. Just imag­ine them work­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion and health sys­tems, in pol­i­tics, in jour­nal­ism, in law, in en­gi­neer­ing, in sci­ence - just imag­ine the power of what they can do to trans­form our world,” she said.

In 1991, when Cot­ton vis­ited Zim­babwe to find out why girls' school enrolment in ru­ral ar­eas was so low, she found that, con­trary to the common as­sump­tion that fam­i­lies weren't send­ing girls to school for cul­tural rea­sons, poverty was the main block.

Fam­i­lies couldn't af­ford to buy books or pay school fees for all their chil­dren, so they had to choose who would re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion. Girls were rarely cho­sen. “I found grand­moth­ers at the age of 35 years, they were given in mar­riage at an early age due to poverty and they couldn't con­tinue ed­u­ca­tion,” said Ann. While the re­sis­tance to women's ad­vance­ment has ex­isted glob­ally and through his­tory, in present day Africa girls' ed­u­ca­tion is a pow­er­ful uni­fy­ing fac­tor among the com­mu­ni­ties, ac­cord­ing to Cot­ton. “We never overtly chal­lenge any of the pa­tri­ar­chal tra­di­tions. In­stead we work in­clu­sively,” she says. In fact, it was a lot tougher to “move a fam­ily psy­cho­log­i­cally from the fear of im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cials” and get them to invest in their fu­ture.

She re­turned home to Cam­bridge, Eng­land, de­ter­mined to find a way to help girls go to school in Zim­babwe. She ap­proached friends and fam­ily and sold baked goods to raise money and aware­ness about the lack of ed­u­ca­tion for girls in sub Sa­ha­ran Africa.

She be­gan her cam­paign by help­ing put

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