At 11, Mariam* discovers that instead of going to school, she will have to get married to an older gentleman. This means that she has to stop going to school. Her last act of defiance is running away and finding shelter with an international group that could protect her and find a way to continue her education. Her family finds her, takes her home and after beating her, she is married off. She dies at 13 during childbirth.- this was in 2011, and unfortunately, a familiar story in Africa.
Reading the Malala Yousafzai story should have every girl-education activist in Africa thinking. At 15 years old, this Pakistani girl became the symbol of girl education. But let us not kid ourselves- we have seen this story before, and we still do. Unfortunately the story of girls education in Africa is just as unpleasant. It might be getting better, but to this day, girls will always be the last ones chosen to attend school. A great number of girls go to school at their own risk. They risk the ostracization from their families and communities, and most of the time, they will have to leave school to get married– YES- Child marriage is a thing- and it continues on to this day. With all this talk of Africa rising, and African being the final or the next frontier, we have forgotten the battles such as girl education that we still need to fight.
Statistics show that $12 is the average amount spend on girl education in Africa. That is if the girls have been lucky to attend school. In 2012, PLAN released Because I am a Girl, a report on girl education in Africa. The stories untold, and the reports you won’t hear in the media is that girls in Africa are fighting for their education, but they constantly lack the support they need. They lack visibility- thus “if it is not seen, then it’s not happening”. In Africa, we have missed the mark in championing ourselves, championing children who are the future of the so-called “Africa Rising”.
Organizations that work with children get less support because those who are advocating for them, particularly in Africa, are few and far between. Unless an organization has a celebrity-like individual championing for their causes, then these organizations become obsolete- so to speak. Thats why organizations like United for Kids Foundation are to be admired. They are slowly restoring hope in children’s lives. Other organizations like US-Africa Synergy are making sure that African girls/women are empowered, and contributing to their societies. More importantly, they are also working to end the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)- this is an entirely different post. But the message is clear. These organizations tell our children that we care about them, and are not waiting for them to get an education because we can care about the contribution they are making in society. After all, before any African youth can become an “Afropreneur”, they have to reach that awkward age of “adulthood”, and be accompanied with a decent education, formal or informal.
All that being said and done, there is hope. You can bet on that these kids are not waiting on us to get it together and realize that we need invest in them.
At 15, Aine Armando Wasso in Mozambique refused to get married and pursued her education despite opposition from her family. She was able to get the support she needed to be able to get the money required, and five years later, Wasso’s future is bright.
The misconception on a girl’s education has been that they don’t need it. Some of the parents believe that boys are smarter than the girls. Although this is disproved every day.
For example, meet Maud Chifamba, a 14 year old orphan who is an advocate for child education in Zimbabwe. Oh has it been mentioned that she is the FIRST girl, scratch that- student at her age to be admitted to college in Southern Africa? She was not shot, nor spend months in the hospital, but what Chifamba did was educate herself under strenuous circumstances, with no money to attend school. At a very young age, losing her parents, she learned that her future was in her own hands and she needed to fight- and fight she did.
These stories are just very few among thousands of stories of African girls and their plight for an education. So let us admire Malala for what she hopes to do and accomplish- but maybe its time Africans realize that Malala might be a symbol for child education, but the real work is up to them. Malala will not be traveling to Africa to solve the issue of girl-education.