Via Huffington Post
My LitWorld team has just returned from a trip to work with the girls and women leading our Girls LitClub initiative in Kenya. Join me on this journey:Poverty is extreme in both the slums and the rural areas, where there is very little to eat and where girls are routinely expected to do hours of housework from the youngest possible age; where girls frequently leave school early for shame about their menstrual cycles or torn uniforms or lack of school fees or HIV/AIDS; where in one school of 600 children, 300 have been orphaned by AIDS; where many of the ten and eleven year-old girls are the head of their households; where girls are expected to sell themselves to marriage at thirteen so their family can survive off their dowries; where their eyes and hearts and minds spring to life with the pleasure of a poem, the joy of a song, the magic of friendship.These LitClubs, they feel like life and death work to me now. Why? The LitClubs are showing the girls that there is something to live for, that they can come to school instead of trading their bodies for food and potentially contracting the same disease that has killed many of their family members. And the LitClubs are showing the world that education, in time, is like vaccinating a child against poverty.Giving the children who are most at risk for despair the gift of joy in learning is at least a small way to give back to them, not what they’ve lost, but a way to make a new future. A story: One of our LitClub members is the child head of a household of many children, her siblings; both her parents died of AIDS. She frequently visits the lake near her school because the men down there will give her scraps of food in the morning; in exchange for the use of her body. She goes to school after this, and then home to collect water from a distance, cook, clean and care for her many younger siblings, and go to bed in the pitch black, sleeping on the floor in one room with all her siblings breathing quietly beside her. She has told me her life is hard, but she was the first to offer me her only biscuit at the snack time we provided (it was her only meal of the day). She said to me the other day: “The Girls Club is the first place I ever felt what it must be like to be happy. I love coming here and I wish I could be here with everyone singing and reading always.” This work is an urgent flame pulsing in my heart: The time is now because the child of eleven is a child of twelve tomorrow. She has no time. Something else happened in Kisumu that day. The mothers or guardian mothers and grandmothers of the girls came together. We invited them to join us to learn what their daughters are doing in the LitClubs and to help them to ensure the girls have safe and quiet spaces at home to study and learn.They were so proud to be there, and to be together, united for hope that their daughters, unlike themselves, would move forward in a formal education. Yet, I hope they left feeling that they are also their daughters’ great educators in how they model the importance of their own hard work and dedication and their courage in coming to this meeting, and taking up their pens, using them to create change. As soon as they shared their stories, the room came alive. I said, “It is your own stories that will change your daughters’ lives and inspire them forward.” They told stories with tears: What peace means to them is that their children will have enough to eat, that the nights will no longer be so dark. In the end, we asked them to draw images of their daughters and speak out their hopes for them. Their pictures poured forth from those pens. Their stories poured forth. They want for their daughters a new world, fiercely, deeply.
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