First Generation Graduates

These are the stories of girls who are the first in their family to graduate. They were collected by the GEM Report as part of a campaign, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 Gender Report, aiming to demonstrate progress in gender equality in education since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.


Lorena –  Mexico

“We are a large family of nice siblings, most of who studied up to high school and the other two did not go to school. One had to learn to write and read on his own. I am the only one who finished a university degree. I suffered discrimination, contempt, and the difficulties of adapting to the city, and the weather. Thanks to the Tarahumara Foundation and the indigenous university program, I managed to finish my degree as an engineer in territorial development at the autonomous university of Chihuahua. My wish is that my son also manages to finish a degree. He has just started kindergarten and I will be his support so that he can achieve his dreams.”




Bello Yemisi Afusat  – Nigeria

“It was a great experience to achieve this certificate.  My father was eager to educate his children but my elder sisters were not serious with their studies and ended up becoming pregnant so he refused to sponsor their education. My father died when I completed primary school and there was nobody to assist my mother with my education. My mom asked me to stay with my grandmother. l continued secondary education with God’s grace.”
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Andrae – Mexico

“I believe that education can change a society from its roots. Education has shown me that there are other worlds and that knowledge is not static. The best ideas I’ve had have come from crossing knowledge from one area to another to find the best possible solution. In addition, with knowledge I have managed to return a little to the society that helped my parents to get ahead and to share a little of what I now know with my family that continues to face financial problems.”
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Monika Sharma – India

“I was one of three children born to a lower middle class family in India. My father graduated but was jobless. He tried to start a business many times but failed. My mother got married when she was in 10th standard so dropped out of school. The only source of income in my family was my grandfather, who had a job.”I have an M.A.(English), B.ed, and am pursuing a Masters of social welfare.

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Linfang Zhong – China

“I am the first in my family to graduate but not the last one. My parents gave me full and unconditional support with my choice.  Education can broaden one’s horizon.”

Gifty from Ghana

“Both my parents were peasant farmers who lived in a small village in the upper East of Ghana. I am one of two girls who survived out of fourteen children. The rest of my siblings died before age one. I am the oldest of the two surviving children. My father died when I was twelve years old. My mother never married again. Life without my father was never easy. My sister had to drop out of school.”

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Lilian from Kenya

“I am from Eldoret, Kenya.  I am the first born in a family of two girls and three boys. I was born and raised in a humble Christian home. I have a Post Graduate Diploma. My biggest challenge was raising fees and personal upkeep, but my parents, my late grandparents and the community supported me through fundraising. I realized my dreams and have changed my attitude towards life positively. I encourage young girls not to give up. My hope is to make sure they achieve their best and to achieve what I had aspired to. My dream was to pursue my education to the highest level of a Professor.”

Dr Nisha Sharma from India

“I am from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India. My father shifted from Himachal Pradesh in the North of India to a Mumbai suburb, for employment purposes. He was one of the few matriculates in his native region at that time and my mother didn’t finish schooling at all. They had a child marriage. All of us four siblings were born and educated in Thane and had exposure to a big city environment.  We had a good education from an English medium school.  I graduated in Commerce from Mumbai University.”

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Elizabeth from Kenya

“I am from Eldoret, Kenya. My father was a tailor while my mum was a shop attendant. We are seven and I am the last born. My mum was the first of eight siblings while dad was the fourth born out of six. From both sides, I, the last born in a family of seven, was the first to graduate with a degree. I have a PHD.

There was not money for me to continue school. I got married before I had attained any certificate although I had already secured government sponsorship for a diploma in education.”

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Tsogo Bakamoso

“Having access to an education has developed my skills and broadened my knowledge. It has created platforms and opened bigger opportunities for myself, including international exposure. Education has spread my wings and helped me use my network to my advantage.”
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Mary Otieno

My name is Mary Otieno. I was born in Kisumu County in Kenya. As a child, I lived with my parents and siblings in a small village in Kisumu County. I now work and live in Nairobi. I am the first in my family and the first girl in my village (of a population of 1, 200 households) to graduate with a university degree (Bachelor of education).  I used my education to start the Siprosa School in Nairobi, which provides high quality education to children regardless of their background. I am educating young girls, and also young boys, so that they may become the men that will not be intimidated to work with, marry, and live with these empowered and strong women! Read story


Bharati Date

I am 24 years old. I come from an impoverished background, but I have worked my way up to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. I want to be a District Collector—a government officer in charge of the revenue and administration of an entire district. My struggle to achieve my dream of an education has empowered me and given me the ability to overcome all the obstacles that life presents. Read story


Tai Phalke

I am 26 years old.  I was born in a village in India, Nimgaon Bhogi, and have followed my dream to become the first girl in my family to graduate. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and now work as an Engineer for a Dutch company. I credit my success to the support and guidance I received in Life Skills Education (LSE) sessions that transferred me from being a shy village girl to an entrepreneur. I hope I will have my own small-scale industry in the near future. Read story


Candy Kalonji

Candy’s mom was a refugee in the UK. She grew up in Kinshasa in a poor family, where only the men were allowed to go to University. Her mom never completed secondary school but insisted that Candy pursues an education. At the age of 12, her mom relocated to the UK and Candy followed 7 years later. She immediately enrolled in senior school in Year 11 and jumped straight in the GCSEs. It was really hard as she spoke not a word of English. However, with the support of her teachers and fellow students, she managed to pass all her classes. Eventually, she was admitted to University of Greenwich to study international relations and languages. She graduated last year and wants to pursue a master’s degree in human rights. Candy is the first in her family to go to University – something she is really proud about. She credits some of her success to an amazing French teacher at University who encouraged her to persevere in her studies after she failed a few times. Candy went from not speaking a word of English at 17 to finishing a university degree. She also speaks fluent French and Spanish.