For girls in East Africa, life is extremely difficult and they face many challenges, gender stereotypes and discrimination. This is Akello’s story…
“It is 1:15pm and I have 45 minutes until my afternoon lessons begin. The sun glares at me with a familiar, yet never comforting, heat that forms warm beads of sweat on my forehead and neck. My blouse hugs my skin more tightly as the sweat drips down my back and as I push my father’s bicycle laden with 60 litres of water. I notice the village boys staring at me and whispering loudly among themselves; “She is ready for marriage”. I pretend that I do not hear anything. In my head all I am thinking is that I am going to be late for my afternoon classes and my father is going to blame me for wasting time at the well. I still manage to smile although my arms are hurting and my body is struggling to balance the bicycle…but what else can I do? It is my role!
By 1:30pm I have managed to cover half of the 1km journey from the well to my home. My stomach churns from hunger. I have to make it back home in less than ten minutes or else I shall not have enough time to eat the amukeke (dried potato slices) that my mother has prepared for lunch. If I had a choice I would stay in school and eat the school lunch like other children. If I was a boy, like my brothers, I would have eaten already and would be back at school playing football. Instead, I am here collecting water and there is nothing I can do. It is my role!
At 1:50pm I am almost choking on my lunch knowing that I have less than eight minutes to get back to school. I hear my father calling my name, I turn around to see him lifting the bicycle and he looks at me and says “I am off to the centre” (by center he means he has gone to socialise and drink and will only return late in the evening). All I do is nod, hoping that is all, but then I hear him say “Your mother has gone back to the garden so, when you finish your lunch, bathe your little siblings, clean the verandah again and untie the goats and bring them back to their shed”.
For the next five minutes I stare blindly trying to register what my father has just said and from a distance I hear the faint “cleng cleng cleng” sound of the school bell ringing. It is 2pm and time for the afternoon classes to start. That is when I realise I will not be attending school again this afternoon. Instead, I have to help with all of the domestic tasks at home at the expense of gaining my education…but what can I do? It’s my role!”
The challenges Akello faces are still harsh realities that exist in many communities in East Africa. At Fields of Life, we are working to bring safe, clean drinking water closer to such communities through our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme and through our I AM GIRL initiative to break the barriers and difficulties associated with gender that are deeply rooted in society and culture. We believe now is the time to stand up for the rights of girls in East Africa! We believe all girls are entitled to dignity and a future and we believe that if girls can stay in school they have the potential to be change agents in their families, communities and nations.