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    Posted October 23, 2012 by
    Nanyuki, Kenya
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Do the math: Girls + Education

    Daraja Academy Celebrates International Day of the Girl


    Daraja Academy students recently celebrated Day of the Girl, which officially took place for the first time on October 11, 2012. At four p.m. all 104 Daraja girls met at the school’s patio for a forum. One girl from each form gave a speech: Zaituna discussed why girls are important, Charity highlighted problems girls face, Mercy provided ways to overcome those problems, and Nasibo talked about hope in girls’ futures. Daraja girls come from five regions – Northeast, Southwest, Southwest, Northwest, and Central Kenya – and were divided by their regions for the forum. Drawing from their own experience, each regional group interspersed the four speeches with presentations regarding the three biggest issues girls face in their region and possible solutions.

    The first annual International Day of the Girl Child was established by the United Nations in March of 2012. Celebrated worldwide, the event was created in accordance with Goal 3 of the Millennium Goals, which seeks to promote gender equality and empower women. The UN established the Day of the Girl because eradication of poverty and participation in decision-making empowers girls, which serves to end discrimination and violence and protects their human rights.

    In her individual speech, Zaituna, a Form 1 from Eastern Kenya, talked about why girls are important. “Girls have a big role in their community,” she said. “The girl who is studying to be somebody important in the society is the same girl that will be a mother.” Girls, she says, are expected to one day bear children and run a household, but they also have rights that they might not be aware of. “I have the right to read and learn and achieve my goals and dreams. I dream of being a surgeon. My goal is to go back to my community and change my community.”

    Charity, Form 2, spoke on problems that Kenyan girls face. These problems, she says, include poverty (which would prevent a girl from going to school), traditional practices (like early marriages and female circumcision), and peer pressure to do drugs, which could cause a girl to drop out of school. She thinks one of the biggest problems is that girls often have a bad attitude toward school, because they believe education is only for boys, and therefore they will not work hard in pursuing an education. Charity, however, attended a mixed-gender school prior to Daraja where the teachers encouraged students to pursue their educations, because education is an equal right of boys and girls.

    Mercy, Form 3, talked about how girls can overcome their obstacles, focusing on four character traits – being positive-minded, being hopeful, having perseverance, and being courageous. It can be hard to stay positive – “It takes energy because not all situations are favorable to us.” If girls can stay positive, though, problems seem smaller and thus will be easier to overcome. In addition, girls must be hopeful, in order to have faith in themselves and the goals they can achieve. Perseverance is also indispensable – “Perseverance shows society that we don’t give up,” says Mercy. “Then we convince them that we are capable of doing things they think we can’t do.” Finally, courage is crucial to girls, because courage allows girls to “take on tasks that seem hard.”

    Nasibo, Form 4, was the final speaker, discussing hope and the future of girls. Hope, she says, is an expectation – a belief that something good will happen. Nasibo came to Daraja four years ago, and she knows that having hope can be difficult. “Sometimes it’s hard to have hope if there is no one you can share your stress with,” she says. When she was in Class 8 back home, she had no hope of going to high school, and her future, she was sure, ended after Class 8. However, when she was given the opportunity to attend Daraja, she was able to “take an extra step to make my future brighter.”

    Despite the fact that all 104 Daraja girls come from every region of Kenya, their lists of challenges facing girls were almost all identical. Challenges girls across Kenya face include early marriages, female circumcision, inadequate girls’ education, rape, poverty, prostitution, drug abuse (and peer pressure), early pregnancy, lack of parental support, ignorance about girls’ rights, and school drop out. Daraja girls came up with solutions, including creating organizations and campaigns to protest early marriages and female circumcision; promote girls’ education by informing communities of its effects; increase sex education; increase access to free education; promote guidance and counseling for girls and families; create awareness of rape and prosecute rapists; and strengthen parent-children relationships.

    Following the final speech, the girls broke into their families – each family contains one girl from each form – and in addition to discussing what they had learned, they each told their family members what they loved about one another. Daraja cofounder Jenni Doherty closed the forum by encouraging the girls to lie in bed that night and reflect on the reasons their Daraja families love them because, explained Jenni and the girls in unison, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure.”

    Later in the week, the girls rejoined to learn about the fate of Malala Yousafzai. On October 9, the Taliban attempted to assassinate this fourteen-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl for promoting girls’ education. Malala was on a bus in her Pakistani town of Swat with other schoolchildren when the Taliban gunmen stopped and boarded the bus, demanding to know which child was Malala. She was shot in the head and neck, and while she is likely to recover, people around the world are rallying behind her to show their support for her courageous cause. Daraja girls were appalled by this tragedy, and have spent the last week thinking of ways to show support. Form 4 girls even created a song for Malala, in which they proclaim, “You are the light of the world / You are the champion of girls’ rights / We look up to you and we are on your side / Malala we’ll never let you down.” Daraja girls know that “Girls + Education = A Bright Future."

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