Reading: Going Beyond Scholarships to Prepare Girls for Life

Woman of Passion & Purpose

Going Beyond Scholarships to Prepare Girls for Life

Zoe Timms’ Women’s Education Project helps South Asian girls fulfill dreams and ambitions.

By Catherine LeFebvre

Photo of Kathak dancer by Saksham Gangwar

Zoe Timms, the founding executive director of Women’s Education Project, has always been focused on helping women. In college, she created a program teaching English to little girls in India, where she was studying abroad. Through that, she met a translator who wanted to get her MBA and work at the UN and formed a friendship that would change the course of her life.

“I saw this girl was supporting her whole family,” Zoe says. “She had so much ambition and so much ability, but poverty and her family situation were going to hold her back.”

Zoe Timms Women’s Education Project

It inspired Zoe to raise $3,000 among her friends at a bar in New York the next time she came home. She used that money to rent a house and start a small center for girls in Madurai, where she was living, and the Women’s Education Project was born.

Initially, WEP was a place where young women could come for college scholarships, academic support, and learn about career opportunities. It was also a comfortable, fun space to meet friends and discuss challenges, dreams, and ambitions.

“It’s a friendly, warm place for girls to come together, support each other, and learn essential skills,” Zoe says.

The school’s curriculum grew based on the needs of the students. Since many girls had never used a computer, WEP started a computer lab. When Zoe realized almost all the girls were malnourished, they developed a program to give everyone a healthy snack each day. Eventually, WEP combined much of what the girls were asking to learn into their “I am a Leader” program.

“They are sheltered and very young in a way, but facing very serious problems in their homes,” Zoe says. “[So we] developed a concept where the community is where they learn these life skills.”

Zoe Timms Women’s Education Project

This way, the girls have a choice in what they want to learn. If it’s health, they go talk to an OBGYN at a local hospital. Or if it’s food, they go to a local organic farm. WEP students have worked at a honey bee farm, at nurseries, gone to museums, and banks.

“A huge part [of what we do] is helping these girls to develop a spark inside themselves,” Zoe says. “We try to open their awareness of their opportunities.”

It’s a concept that’s so successful Zoe thinks it can work anywhere…including here in the US.

“I see a huge need for bringing women together and creating supportive communities for each other,” she said. “But we’d have to raise a lot of money to do it.”

For now, though, Zoe takes pleasure in seeing her girls in South Asia thrive.

“The reward is the girls,” she says. “Two months ago I was in a village with our students and they were giving me a tour. They didn’t know I could understand what they were saying. They said to a girl who came up, ‘You must come to our center! You will have a jolly time and make lots of friends.’ It was so touching. The girls were saying exactly what the program is: it’s meant to be a warm and friendly place for the girls to come who face so many challenges at home.”

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