Last week, SMS celebrated the first International Day of the Girl with four remarkable girls from Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau, who shared their stories and their passion with our students over the course of two days. The young women spoke at a school assembly, facilitated workshops and classroom discussions, and shared a series of mini-documentaries they helped create with parents and community members at a special evening event.
The girls spoke about the importance of addressing issues that impact girls here in Canada, and around the world, and galvanized even our youngest students to believe that they too have a voice and can make a difference.
During an assembly, one of the young speakers stated: “I am a feminist; I am not interested in putting down men or taking over the world, I simply want to ‘raise up’ women to an equal place, and the best way to do this is through education and making people aware of the challenges that many women around the world face.” This statement resonated with me, and brought me back to my experience in Kenya this past summer.
I spent two weeks in August building a school (to be truthful, two classrooms) with Me to We in a small village called Ingleswani, which is located in the heart of the Masai Mara plains.
As we drove out of Nairobi and towards our destination in Masai Mara, the scenery constants were the red earth, the bumpy roads, the sporadic vegetation and the randomly placed acacia trees in the distance. Each morning we would wake to a herd of wildebeests, zebras, giraffes and gazelles grazing just outside our tent camp.
In contrast to this spectacular scenery were the day-to-day challenges faced by the people of Ingleswani: limited access to clean water (the closest watering hole was 4 km away); a diet consisting of chai tea in the morning and two meals of maize porridge or bread to tide them over for the rest of the day; diseases unheard of in North America (and the risk of succumbing to illnesses that would put you or I on bed rest for a couple of days); and limited opportunities to go to school.
Although free primary education was instituted in Kenya in 2003, many of the children have to work in order for their families to survive. Even if they are able to go to school, they sometimes have to travel long distances to attend a classroom that is overcrowded, antiquated and a far cry from the learning environments that exist here.
For these children, girls in particular, the desire to go school is immense. They welcomed us each time we encountered them on the road and took great pride in their English and all that they were learning.
The experience was a reminder that an education is a gift that we often take for granted and yet, for the people in these impoverished areas, access to an education is truly a dream for a better future.
It was inspiring to hear the young women from the Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau explain the role of education in empowering girls all over the world to change not only their own lives, but the lives of everyone around them for the better.
To Alisha, Maneesa, Julia and Adiba: I applaud you for your commitment and your passion. It was an honour to have you!
Because I am a Girl is Plan’s global initiative to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty. For more information, visit www.becauseiamagirl.ca.