We were returning to Engaruka with great news. In addition to telling Saning’o that he now had a sponsor and would be going to school in January, we would also be telling an orphaned girl that we had found a scholarship for her secondary school education. I was very excited to share in her good news, but on arriving at the village and finding her, she revealed that she was
pregnant - eliminating all hope of future education.
This is a heartbreaking reminder of why Empowered Girls is so important, and so needed. Teenage girls in this culture are very vulnerable to pregnancy and the problem starts with complete lack of factual knowledge about sex. This situation is then exacerbated by being taken advantage of by older men, by choosing to be sexually active or by being forced into marriage by their families. In many cases it is far from the families’ first choice that they marry their daughters off, but they are left with very little choice as the bride price is needed for survival and they feel pressure from friends and family members to find a husband for their daughters.
Shortly after returning from Engaruka however, I experienced first hand how Empowered Girls is such a positive influence on secondary school girls. Empowered Girls was first started last September at Enaboishu Secondary School in Arusha. Whenever I visited Enaboishu I found it hard to believe that the club had only been around for a year as so many girls were participating in the club and putting so much into various Empowered Girls activities.
They prepared a skit that showed the benefits of staying in school and focusing on their studies. They had a fashion, show showing off different dress designs they had made out of a single piece of fabric and pins. They wrote and performed songs about the challenges women face and overcoming those challenges. The atmosphere in the room was electric, and it made me realize just how few chances most of these girls had previously had to sing, dance and talk openly about the issues they face. There were several students that Kellen knew from her time teaching at the school as well as from when she helped start the club last year who had become much stronger and outgoing. I believe that all the girls at Enaboishu school , even those not directly participating, benefited from the Empowered Girls program.
For me, seeing the incredible result that Empowered Girls has been able to accomplish in such a short time is a tremendous motivator to continue my involvement after I return to the States and college. While the reasons the clubs need to exist is heartbreaking, the result of Empowered Girls is nothing short of transforming.