Paicho, Gulu District, Northern Uganda.
Fiona is 13 years old and wants nothing more than to go to school. That’s her dream. To achieve this she works weekends and holidays at a stone quarry. It is grueling. She gets a big granite rock, bought on credit, and breaks it by hand into small pieces of gravel with a hammer. She spends all her free time doing this so she can afford to pay the fees to attend school. She is not alone; each day she comes with 4 of her siblings, the youngest being 7.
It didn’t always used to be like this. Fiona’s father lost his sight a few years back. After he became disabled the mother left for another man, leaving Fiona in charge of the care of her siblings and father. She cooks, cleans, collects water and firewood and works at the quarry to earn her school fees. It’s not an easy life for a girl her age.
I met Fiona a few days ago. She is part of African Women Rising’s Girls Education program and on this day 50 of the other students in the program at Oywak Primary school were doing community support work at her home. They were helping Fiona’s family clean around the compound, cut grass, sweep, clean away rubbish and build a simple structure for bathing to provide some privacy.
We have 1,150 girls in our program designed to help them realize their dreams. Yet too many of them are in similar situations as Fiona. In this area of Northern Uganda less than 5% of girls ever reach secondary school. Although AWR is not in a position to pay for school fees we do make sure the girls have access to school uniforms, textbooks, scholastic materials and sanitary pads. We also make sure they get mentorship from female role models and receive critical academic support. Through experience we know that it takes all of this to help keep girls in school.
Fiona’s situation is heartbreaking and it is unfair. We live in a world of such abundance so it’s hard to believe that situations like this can still exist. Although education is a basic human right, 264 million children and adolescents across the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school. Here in this corner of Uganda we are doing our small part to change that, and we can’t do it without your help.
Linda and the AWR team