Dinah tells me she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
The classroom in Iten, Kenya is packed full of 8- to 10-year-old
girls. They started out very quiet, but the rustling and murmuring
and quiet giggling that signals their comfort in this place and
with me have all increased.
Outside is a stunning view of the escarpment sloping down the
Rift Valley. Outside are the high altitude training centers where
Kenya's famous runners train. Inside are sweet, murmuring girl
Dinah is the rebel. Every other girl has either said she wants
to be a runner (the standard dream here) or to be a doctor (for my
benefit, I'm sure.) Dinah's eyes shine, the type of shine that
speaks to hope.
There are too many odds stacked against girls in Kenya as we
celebrate this first International Day of the Girl Child. Less than
half of these girls will go on to secondary school. More than 1/3
will be pregnant before they are 20 years old. Less than half of
them will have someone skilled to help them deliver their babies in
a country where 6,000 women die every year from the complications
of pregnancy and childbirth.
I look at them and I wonder how many were infected with HIV from
their mothers, and I wonder how many more will go on to get HIV as
they are growing up. About 15% of these girls will have had sex by
the time they are 15, and very few will be protected during that
encounter. Only 12% will use a condom. At least 6% of the girls
giggling and smiling and dreaming in this room will be infected
with HIV along the course of their growing up.
There are many things that might make the eyes of these girl
children stop shining.
But we also know some things that will keep them shining.
If they stay in school, these girls will be healthier and
happier. They will go on to have better jobs, to have fewer and
healthier babies, and to have less problems in giving birth to
those babies. These girls will be much less likely to get infected
with HIV if they stay in school. The economy will benefit, their
families will benefit, and their eyes will continue to shine.
Keep a girl in school. School fees, school uniforms, sanitary
napkins for those days when they are menstruating. These practical
items keep girls in school. For a few dollars, their eyes will keep
shining. These items allow Dinah to go on to teach more girls in
more classrooms on a distant Day of the Girl Child.
(Yes, I know I'm a day late posting my Day of the Girl Child
story. Girls deserve a little grace…)