"For 900 million girls and women, who are victims of extreme poverty, life is not about opportunity and equality. Two thirds of rural girls in the developing world still miss out on high school education. One in three will be married in her teens and when she gets pregnant. she will likely not get any professional care.
However these girls are not victims. Yes they are poor, but they are bright and hopeful and have fierce ambition. They have the key to overcome poverty.
And how did that happen? The stories of the girls have a common thread. They were given an opportunity to shine because the door to a good education was unlocked for them by Compassion." Amanda Jackson, Director, Women's Commission, World Evangelical Alliance.
Meet the girls ...
Carol, Gatina, Nairobi, 14 years old
"Poverty makes people think that a boy has more value than a girl … Even some tribes
like the Maasai, you’ll have a boy being taken to school and a girl being taken to marry
because a girl is not important to them. We should all be given equal chances. Whatever
a boy can do, a girl can do. It’s best that we work together as boys and girls.
When I am older, I will take the young people and advise them about corruption.
I know I can help others who don’t have an education. The purpose of a leader is to
help people who are in need of help.
I believe that a woman can lead this country just as well as a man can lead this country."
Esther, Mathare, Nairobi, 14 years old
"It is important for girls to feel beautiful. If someone tells you that you are ugly you can tell them you are beautiful – only if you know in your heart that you’re beautiful. True beauty comes from education. We are the ones who can show the younger girls how to carry themselves. We can help direct them."
Siyianta, 13 years old, Mashuru
"Strength enables us to choose education over marriage. I often think, for the girls who
have been married off, maybe if they were strong they could have gone to the Chief MP
and told her, 'I don’t want to be married'. For me, I know I can go to the Chief and tell her.
I want those girls to study, I don’t want those girls to be married off. Nowadays
the community is starting to see early marriage is a bad thing, little by little.
But there are a few who still accept it."
Beatrice, 16 years old, Mashuru
"My family doesn’t see my education as a good thing. That’s why it is
important to me to be a part of the Compassion project. I want my daughter to become
educated so her house would be a good house. She would be able to sleep in a good bed
that is not made of cow skin and she would go to a good school.
Boys and girls are not given equal opportunities in my community. Boys are valued more than the girls."
Rachael, Mashuru, 16 years old
"There are good things about living in this community. There are nearby water points
and a good availability of vegetables along the river. But the challenge here is that
children’s rights are violated and girls are exposed to harmful cultural practices.
Then, when someone gets sick they use herbal medicine.
Girls and boys are not equal. A woman’s role in this community is to bring up children
and follow rules in the community. I think girls should get their confidence from
education and from working hard in school. That is why my goal is to be a teacher."
Mary, Mathare, 14 years old
"If a girl thinks that she’s not beautiful, she will always be down; she will think people don’t love her. The one that knows that she’s beautiful will always be courageous and she will know she can do something, she can do anything. True beauty comes from one’s heart."
Abigael, Mashuru, 16 years old
"This area has many challenges. The circumcision of girls is a challenging issue. When you circumcise a girl, a girl can bleed until she is dead. I want to live in a world where
circumcision does not exist and where my daughter won’t have to be circumcised.
My hope is to be a catering teacher. I will teach people how to cook and how to bake
cakes. I think if I am strong, I will have a greater future, because confidence can mean
having your own job and making your own plans."
Valary, Gatina, Nairobi, 13 years old
"I want to be a doctor. When others get sick they will need treatment and I will do
this by working hard in school and focussing every day. I will go to the place where
doctors are trained so I can see how they learn to be doctors and I’ll visit hospitals
to see the processes of people being treated."
Talash, Mashuru, 16 years old
"The proudest moment of my life was when I qualified for the Compassion National Athletics Tournament. I was competing in the 100 metre sprint.
My strength is running. My confidence is running. For me to have purpose means to set a goal and work hard towards achieving that goal. I have seen that if a girl is strong she can be a good role model.
I know that here and all over the world boys and girls do not have equal access to education. In the future I would like to see girls growing up in good environments, because to me, a perfect world is a world where children’s rights are adhered to. There would be no corruption and people would live in peace with each other."
Saayion, Mashuru, 14 years old
"I live with my grandmother and I have two brothers and one sister and I have lived here with my grandmother for seven years. I can still remember the day she adopted us. Both of my parents have passed away.
One of the most challenging things is living in a small room with one bed, the four of us together. My grandmother is so old, but she tries to work for us so that we can live comfortably."
Francis Mbore, Compassion Project Director, Mathare Valley
"Generally in this community girls are more vulnerable. Boys are regarded as being strong. Unless someone intervenes for them [girls can] have a very bad life. They are mistreated by men. Very little children are defiled.
There is actually a very big difference between girls in the [Compassion] project and the girls who are not. You can even recognise it by looking at those girls. They have a very high self-esteem because they are getting an education. But above all, because they have been attached to a church and to the Compassion project, they are able to get a lot of other skills from seminars, camps and training. Often parents have experienced a cycle of poverty and they won’t understand why it’s important to send their girls to school. That’s why the church is important, we help them understand.
We feel they have been protected from what is going on outside the project walls. The girls have been able to discover the potential inside them, despite what is outside and all around them. People just need hope. Through the church and the project they have discovered something they would never have been able to otherwise."
When these girls are strong, they are really strong.
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To celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, 'Any Girl' photography exhibition is running at G11@oxo on London's Southbank from 12-16 October 2016. 'Any Girl' features the work of documentary photographers Jeremy Tan and Ella Dickinson.