The last number of weeks have been a bit of a haze as I have…
Field Notes: On Finishing School
Gulu is extremely hot these days.
Today it was over 110. I’m drinking more warm — and very sweet — sodas in a day then I care to count. Every time i come to visit a new group of women they offer sodas and food, it is impossible to refuse. My goal is always to visit as many of the groups as possible, to sit and share their problems and successes. Right now everyone is waiting for the rain to come, to release us from the heat.
The other day I was sitting with a group of young girls. They are part of a new initiative we are starting, Girl’s Clubs. A very simple after-school gathering of girls. So many of the girls face incredible obstacles to finish school, in some of the communities only 3% continue to secondary school, meaning that most of them might reach 3rd or 4th grade. Most can barely read or write. For many women the only way to get validation is to have children and we want to show that there are alternatives. I have two young women who are organizing the groups, African Women Rising staff members from these very communities who are now program assistants in our Microfinance Program with good salaries, driving motorcycles and, with the help from African Women Rising, about to start to study at the university.
They are passionate about this issue and want to create change.
I do believe most parents want to see their daughters finish school, they want them to have a better life, but any time they need help at home – a new baby, need for water, someone is sick, the girls are the ones who are kept at home to help. It is a few days here and there, maybe a week. By the end of the year, when it is time for exams, the girls fail because they have not been at school enough. So they have to repeat a year. Once they get their period they miss school because they don’t have pads. So there are girls who are 13,14 years old and still in third grade, and by that point they start to get teased, parents don’t want to pay for school fees anymore since the girls keep repeating the grades so they must be stupid. Before too long they become pregnant because then at least they have some value.
It is a vicious cycle of poverty. The mothers understand the problem because often they are the ones who end up taking care of the grandchildren, another mouth to feed, another set of school fees. But it is difficult to make the connection between the need of having the girl at home for a few days (it’s only a few days after all) and failing the grade. So we have the clubs and we have discussions with the parents, why they have to make sure the girls attend school every day.
The next big thing to tackle is access to pads. These girls are never going to be able to afford disposable pads so we are looking into how we can help provide reusable ones. Like everything else it is a matter of funding. We are exploring different ways for the girls to earn money, starting a vegetable garden, planting trees at their school, we will figure something out. It is heartbreaking talking with them. The younger ones are so full of dreams and aspirations, they want to be doctors, teachers and police women. Once they reach 12, 13, 14, most of the dreams are gone.
A kit containing reusable pads for a year, underwear and soap (to wash the pads) cost $11.