Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Girl Power - November 23, 2015

I have a confession to make: for all that I love and support female equality (especially in developing countries), I have a difficult time discussing it (especially in developing countries). Which is why I think that one woman who I met this week is so incredible.

On Monday I had the pleasure of visiting the two main schools that Selamta kids attend: the local Alpha school and the distant magnet-like Yeha School of Science and Technology.

During my visit to Alpha, my (female) guide just happened to mention the bathroom process – because we passed a group of boys sprinting back to their classroom from the bathroom. Everywhere you look in the literature about female equality in developing countries, you see references to girls who stop attending school when they start menstruating. The topic was there…I didn’t even have to bring it up: all I had to do was ask how they handle the bathroom process to make it easier for girls on their period. And yet, something about me felt too awkward – questioning “What if she doesn’t have a good answer? What if she doesn’t understand the question? What if she’s offended I bring up menstruation?” – so I held back.

Sorry for the teaser: neither me nor that female guide is the incredible woman I met this week. I met HER at Yeha – the school we headed to after Alpha.

This girl is also not the incredible woman that I met this week - but damn - isn't she beautiful? This was taken during a 2nd grade English class at Alpha. After the initial giggles when I walked in with my guide, most of the students went straight back to the lesson - it was incredible how they were all so eagerly engaged! Except for this one girl - she did not take her eyes off of me - she wanted to make sure she knew what was up!
Yeha is a Science and Technology school about 30 minutes away from Selamta. Twelve Selamta kids started attending this year. Given the distance, requisites, tuition, etc., it would be impossible for all Selamta kids to attend Yeha (and admittedly, of the 12 there, some aren’t too happy about it because they had been going to Alpha for ~10 years), but the school is AWESOME. The Director showed me chemistry/physics/biology labs, a computer classroom, and an IT lab (where they deconstruct computers) – and we didn’t have time to go to the biodiversity farm across the street! The halls are covered with educational posters and pictures of world leaders who have visited the school. And there’s a bunch of tortoises on the school grounds that are raised by the Kindergarten class every year.

I couldn't get the best pictures at Yeha because the classrooms/labs were locked (we got there after the school day ended) - but this "tree model" for Global Impact pretty much captures how all the hallways looked!
Doesn't this pictures just make you want to go back to school and learn??  
Anyways, as we were leaving, we ran into the elementary school English teacher. None of the Selamta kids at Yeha are in elementary school so she was unaware of the program. As we explained to her the Selamta model she said “bless your hearts” and then jumped straight into asking:

“How many of your 12 students here are girls?”

I did not know – but I learned that the answer is three.

“That is not enough. Girls need to be studying science and technology. You need to send more girls here.” And she didn’t give up – she asked me if I could come back to speak with the girls in the school about what it’s like to be a woman in science (disclaimer: I have had a hard time correcting people from thinking I’m a pharmacist #cvsproblems) – she told me that she has a Girls in Science Club.

And all the while I was kicking myself for:
1.       Not having nearly as much courage as she has – I didn’t even feel comfortable asking the guide at Alpha about female menstruation
2.       Not having asked myself at Selamta about the breakdown of girls who attend this school (but don’t worry too long about that part – I made sure that the point was not lost when we got back in the car)

Reflecting on this encounter brings a smile to my face. I am so happy that the local drive for female equality exists – and I am so happy that the girls at Yeha have this woman as a role model!

PS – I would be remiss to not mention two other points about #feminism with this Girl Power post:

1.       In every single house that I have visited, the girls have been preparing the meals while the boys basically hang out. I do keep on asking the boys if they ever cook and they do keep on telling me that “yes they do” (so they’re not embarrassed to say it) – but I still haven’t seen it L

2.       I visited Axum House tonight with my parents – I might ask my mom to write a guest blog post about the Axum mom because she’s seen her grow since her very first day at Selamta (when she didn’t even know Amharic!) to the strong, proud mother she is today!

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