Margaret Melkiori, a Maasai girl from a rural village in Northern Tanzania, did not have a rosy future when she was born.  When her father discovered her mother was HIV-positive, he abandoned them both.

When Margaret was five, her mother died from AIDS. She was then reunited with her father, only to lose him five years later to AIDS as well. Life without parents was tough for Margaret, but joining Orkeeswa Secondary School and the Kisa Project, a USAID-funded project that provides mentoring and training for girls, helped to give Margaret real hope for her future.

The USAID-supported project matches secondary school girls in Tanzania with sponsors that help provide the girls with a mentor, life skills for personal empowerment and leadership training. The life skills and leadership training stretches over a two-year period, during which time the sponsored girls have access to computers and internet and have regular email exchanges with their sponsors. When the training ends, each scholar is expected to teach the lessons she learned to up to 20 girls in her home village.

USAID’s support is important in Tanzania, where 95 percent of girls do not complete secondary school. By providing young African women with schooling they might not otherwise receive, this type of program empowers them to become leaders and mentors in their own communities.

Exhibiting leadership potential, Margaret was accepted for sponsorship by the USAID’s Kisa Project, and she quickly demonstrated her passion and enthusiasm. She initiated a micro-finance project with the local women’s group, and was voted student body vice president. She says, “My goal is to become a lawyer and to rise up the young girls in my village.” She is a powerful voice among her peers and a respected and loved leader at her school and in her community.

Currently, 180 girls are Kisa scholars and by 2014, nearly 1,400 will have gone through the program.  Because each scholar commits to mentoring other girls with her newfound skills, the project is expected to reach 7,200 girls total. Margaret is evidence that, given the right opportunities, girls can take control of their own futures and positively impact the lives of fellow Tanzanian girls and women.

Watch Margaret tell her story on YouTube.