Angelique Kidjo, Founder of the Batonga Foundation
Every year, as my birthday approaches, my friends and loved ones start talking about giving and receiving gifts. And every year it makes me think about all the many gifts I have been blessed with in my life.
And believe me when I say, I have been blessed many times in my life, blessed with a loving family and with good health. But perhaps the most important gift I ever received was access to an education.
My mother and father raised me, my two sisters, and my seven brothers in an open and loving house. It was a home that valued discussion, joy, and music. But most importantly they valued education- mine and my sisters’ just as much as my brothers’. My father, who was raised himself by a strong woman, believed all girls deserved an education, at a time and place when few girls my age ever made it to secondary school. My family gave me the gifts of opportunity, support, love, and motivation.
They gave me the gift of education.
And so, all throughout my youth, I worked hard to stay in school to keep and sustain the opportunity I was given. I knew my education would be crucial to fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a singer.
I have always known my parents were wonderful and unique in many ways. The education I received as a child is not a gift that every family can or will give to their own daughters. Because I have been very lucky and very blessed, it became my new dream to one day give this same gift to as many African girls as possible- girls who know their dreams hang on their ability to complete their formal schooling or to gain the skills necessary to start their own business.
I founded the Batonga Foundation a decade ago with Mary Louise Cohen and John Phillips to give this chance to other girls. We wanted to found an organization that could give Africa’s most marginalized, most vulnerable girls the same support, love, and motivation that my family gave to me.
I am grateful for the support that has been given by donors, volunteers, board members, family and friends to the Batonga Foundation over the years. Without such generosity, we could never have made this dream a reality. Through our work together, we have given girls in five countries gifts greater than any other: they have received an education and a sense of independence they may never have had otherwise.
We are changing their lives.
This year on my birthday, I hope you will join me in thinking more about the beautiful and sustainable gift that access to education is. And if you truly want to make me happy today on my birthday, give to the Batonga Foundation! Because the greatest gift you can give, or receive, is an education.