On a Saturday morning at a too-early-to-even-utter time, I drive for an hour with my high school aged daughter. It's the day of the much anticipated high school volleyball tournament in Muskoka. Once there, I observe the bright lights, gleaming hardwood floors and expensive equipment in the gymnasium. The music is blaring, girls are practising their serves, spikes and volleys before the first game begins. There is laughter, camaraderie and words of encouragement from coaches. The day is sure to be filled with fierce competition, the highs of winning and the lows of losing and tears of excitement and disappointment and tears that no one understands the reasons behind (because, you know, they are teenage girls after all).
Half a world away, a young teen girl is asked “What do you want to do with your life?”. The question doesn't register. “What do you mean what do I want to do with my life?” She cannot comprehend that a girl could have choices regarding her own life. A choice of whether or not to go to school with the intention of a certain career path, a choice of which university to attend, a choice of whether to marry and whom to marry, a choice on whether or not to have children and when the ideal time would be to try to conceive.
When you are born into a family where Mom is undereducated and unable to make ends meet with a good paying job, you are unable to attend primary school because a uniform is expensive. Or maybe Mom does have a job but she needs you to stay home and look after the younger kids while she is working. Or maybe Mom is HIV+ and unable to work due to her poor health so you are forced to find work wherever and however you can, which can also mean having to sell your body and dignity in order to feed your younger siblings.
While 89% of Kenyan girls complete primary school, that number drops to 56% for secondary school. One quarter of Kenyan girls are married by the time they are 18 years old. Can you see how the cycle of poverty is repeated time and again with lack of education resulting in low wages and constraints on providing for a family?
(To compare, 86% of 19 year old Canadian girls in 2006 completed high school (MORE than boys at 77%). The average age of marriage in Canada is 30 years old).
From a high school gym in Canada, where my daughters' biggest concern is getting the next serve over the volleyball net, a girl's life in Kenya seems destined for hardship. But - there is good news. Kenya has made huge progress in reaching the UN Millenium Development Goals (more info HERE ). School fees in Kenya were abolished in 2003. Antiretrovirals (a drug that helps manage HIV) are now offered at no cost. There are more girls in school. And each one that is able to graduate secondary school and answer for herself what she wants to do with her life, is a step in the right direction.
What do you want to do with your life?
Sarah lives in Northern Ontario with her family. Sarah and her husband have four children, and one grandson. She is an avid reader and learner. In 2012, Sarah launched JustOne with Krista and travelled to Kenya, Uganda and South Africa together. Sarah has a blog we love to read called "Recipe for Messiness" that is about finding beauty amidst our messy lives.