“I go to the stream very early in the morning so that there will be enough water for my family to cook, clean and bath,” the pretty girl, who told me her name was Aliah, said.
“I have to fetch firewood at that time too with my younger sister, because we need to cook breakfast. My two elder sisters go to the stream,” Zaiah offered.
“Oh well, you both are lucky,’ the girl they called Durriya injected with a sad look on her face, “Abba is marrying me off to an old man very soon. But I do not want.”
I am on a trip as a photojournalist with my colleagues to a small village in a well known country. It has a very dry and plain landscape. Hills surround the village and there are patches of almost brown grass here and there. We passed by a river on the way to the village and I guess it is the closest water source to the village. Although, we were travelling in a jeep, I could see that the river is a long trek from the village.
On getting to the village, my colleagues and I started with our work the usual way, first introducing ourselves to the man of the highest rank, then meeting and interviewing specific persons. We were working for an aid agency that had a mission to improve the lives of people in rural areas.
I was still taking the photograph of the second interviewee when my eyes caught 3 girls peeking from a corner behind a chaos of children – about 20 of them, whom I observed were only boys and were all interested in seeing the “white” people with their machines (cameras). When I began to walk towards the girls, they immediately withdrew and scrambled into a hut. Curious as I was, I entered into the hut and greeted in their language,
“Peace be unto you.’
All I could see were some surprised girls and women, few covered from head to toe in burqas. No one responded until thankfully the eldest woman among them said,
“Same to you. May we help you?”
I introduced myself, skipping no details, then asked if I could speak with the 3 girls I had earlier seen entering the hut. The woman looked up to me and said,
“So you are the one – the angel Almighty God has sent to help us, to help our women.”
I stood speechless.
“What?!” I exclaimed within myself.
But looking back, I realize that Ammi as I have grown to fondly call her is a wise woman, one who knew in her wisdom that women are God’s special creatures too.
I thanked Ammi and took the girls – Aliah, Zaiah and Durriya aside, and that was how our discussions began. I could see that the girls were very smart and sharp. They related to me their everyday routine: cooking, fetching water from the stream, fetching firewood, washing and others. Then Aliah said the most surprising thing ever,
“We do no go to learn like the boys do but we cannot because we are to cook and clean.”
I was shocked at that statement.
“Oh no Aliah!” I responded, “I went to school to learn that is why I can travel and come to see you. Because I went to school, I can do many things than cook and clean.”
“Really?” They all asked in unison.
“Of course!” I replied, still in shock.
“Can you tell us those things you can do more than cook and clean.” It was Durriya’s voice this time.
And so I began to explain in the simplest and the best way I could, the benefits of education.
Few minutes later, a voice spoke, not from the girls nor Ammi:
“White woman, can you help our girls and women to school then?”
I looked up to find faces looking up to me with so much eagerness. Apparently, they all heard me while I was speaking with the girls.
“We want our girls to be like you,” the same voice said.
I wasn’t sure if I could. I didn’t even know how but something drew me to these women from within. I knew I could never forget the looks on their faces. They wanted a different future. They needed me.
I replied, “Yes, I would.’
And that began the campaign and struggle that has birthed the first ever girls’ school in the village. The women cannot stop sending their thank yous. They are now fulfilling their dreams.
This story represents the voices of about 32 million uneducated girls around the world.
Many do not go to school because they spend their entire day on house chores believing that is what they are created for. Some like Durriya are sent off to be married at a very young age while some are even sold into prostitution to support their families. Others do not go for reasons such as the distance to the school, cost, gender-based violence, child labour, early pregnancy, poor school facilities, unsafe school conditions and war.
The value of education to girls cannot be overemphasized. Investing in girls’ education means that they can achieve their dreams and take better care of themselves and families. It not only changes families and communities but even economies. It has been proven that:
If all women had a secondary education, there would be 49 per cent fewer child deaths
If all women had a secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia, child marriage would drop by 64 per cent
Investing in girls so they can complete the next level of education could lead to lifetime earnings of up to 68 per cent of annual gross domestic product
Likewise, many boys are out of school for reasons such as cost, gang participation, child labour, the need to seek employment, recruitment to armed forces (child soldiers), war and migration.
In every way we can, we need to ensure that every girl and every boy gets the quality education they require to succeed in life.
DISCLAIMER: The above story is a fictional story written by me. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.