In the four weeks I’ve been at site (in Rundu), I’ve talked to more than 1,000 girls at 5 different schools, started a girls’ club that meets twice a week, met a Chinese family to practice my mandarin with, and befriended the produce manager at the local grocery store who now orders baby spinach and mint for me every week.
Whoo! Small wins!
So, what do I do with these many, many girls?
My hope is to interact pretty closely with them in small groups, in workshops, where we engage in activities that promote self-awareness, self-esteem, and empowerment.
When I pitched my workshops to the life-skills teachers I visited, they all nodded eagerly, then immediately suggested I ‘just talk’ to the girls first… tomorrow. The conversations that subsequently ensue all generally play out the same way, and all touch upon the following points in some way, shape, or form:
- It’s winter here, so when it ‘gets cold’ at night, girls will stay and ‘keep warm’ with whomever offers them ‘the most’. The most can mean anything from chips and Russians (fries and hotdogs), to love and monogamy, and rides to school or some spending money.
- During break time, the girls’ taxi driver boyfriends will pick them up for a quickie and then drop them off in time for classes to start. It’s expected the girls will comply.
- Men will often say, ‘If you love me, you won’t use a condom.’
- Most of the men are not faithful, many have wives and children, and are picking up children as sidechicks to bone and dump for funsies.
- Most classrooms have about 20 girls and 20 boys, 5-7 girls will drop out in each class due to an unplanned pregnancy. That’s more than 30% of the girls!
- The money that the men pay for sex (doesn’t this sound like prostitution to you?) will go towards paying for food, or pads. Some girls don’t have pads, so they stuff leaves, old mattress stuffing, or old clothes up their hoo-has as a makeshift tampon.
- There is peer-pressure coming from fellow pregnant female classmates to get pregnant; some girls, not knowing any better, are proud that they’ve been knocked up.
- There is also peer-pressure from some families, still very traditional, wanting grandchildren asap. Other parents want it for the monies.
tl;dr: The pregnancy rate is incredible, especially amongst girls 13-19, and because of said pregnancies, too many girls end up not finishing school.
Many teachers have had to deliver babies in the hostel schools, take care of miscarriages during class, and play the mother role and teacher role to these girls.
There are girls as young as TEN YEARS OLD getting pregnant. TEN YEARS OLD. I didn’t even know this was possible til I met the girl.
And that’s why the life-skills teachers don’t want to wait for a carefully planned out workshop. That’s why they want me to get in and talk to as many nuggets as possible; every night that goes by is a night that an egg or two might be fertilized.
Ha, talk about pressure.
I came up with a half motivational/half educational talk that revolves around one theme and three important topics.
Theme: Nothing is impossible.
Topics: Education -> Self-Esteem -> Independence
I talk about how important education is, and how it’s a key that opens any door you want, how self-esteem is not needing anyone (especially men) to give you approval, to tell you you’re beautiful or important (because you already are), and how independence, financial, emotional and intellectual independence, allows you to make any decision you want about your body, your future and your life without worrying about any third party.
Some key take aways for the girls?
- You want to find a man who looks at you the same way God looks at you. Most of the girls are Christian – so this works well (:
- “No condom? No sex!”
- If a man says, “if you love me….*insert any conditional statement here*”, you say, “Bye!”
- You decide what happens to your body, no one else. You decide if you have a baby, you decide if you get HIV, and you decide to continue and finish school.
Needless to say, giving these talks for as long as 5 hours a day can be tiring.. well, exhausting, and sometimes I dread it.
But! If I can get through to some fraction of these girls, isn’t that worth it? You’d think that giving these talks over and over again makes it easier. It doesn’t.
Seeing a pregnant 10 year old, pregnant 13 year old never gets easier. Seeing a 17 year old still in 6th grade because she had to take time off to take care of her kid never gets easier.
This has been their normal. I want to make education, graduating, and empowerment their new normal.
Two years, indeed, does seem like a long time, now.
Wish me luck! Eep!