The following is a guest blog, authored by Pam Allyn, Executive Director and Founder of LitWorld, a global organization advocating for children’s rights as readers, writers and learners, and an MCI partner. This account is based on Pam’s travels to the Millennium City of Kisumu, Kenya, to spend time with four Girls’ Clubs, which foster literacy while building self-esteem.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this blog do not represent the opinion of the Millennium Cities Initiative, the Earth Institute at Columbia University or any of its professional consultants.
We traveled many, many hours on terrible, rocky, insane roads to reach the LitWorld Girls’ Clubs in Kisumu, Kenya, down through the glorious Rift Valley and onward towards Lake Victoria. The countryside is lush and green, there are zebras grazing by the side of the road, as well as donkeys, cows and sheep. Herded and cared for by the peripatetic Masai, who face their own challenges from climate change and encroaching humanity. But that is a story I can tell you on another day. For now:
We arrived at dusk, with the fiercest of mosquitoes to greet us, in a startled haze of surprise to land into the deeply tropical feeling heat of the Kisumu evening, so different from the magnificent temperate climate of Nairobi.
The very first thing this morning, we were on our way to visit the four schools in Kisumu, where, with our wonderful partners the Millennium Cities Initiative, the LitWorld Girls’ LitClubs are more than thriving; they are, as one head of school said today: “causing a ripple effect that is literally changing our schools overnight.”
The girls read and recited their poems for us at each school, shared their hopes and dreams, and welcomed us deeply.
We learned much, much more about the lives of the girls here: in both slums and the rural areas, where the poverty is also extreme, where there is very little to eat and where the grueling lives of the girls, routinely expected to do hours of housework from the youngest possible age, leaving school early for shame about their menstrual cycles or torn uniforms or lack of school fees or abuse or HIV/AIDS (the horror of it; how could we have ever let such a thing happen to an entire continent, no, world?); where in one school of 600 children, literally 300 have been orphaned by AIDS, where many of the girls age 10 and 11 are the HEADS of their households, where, as girls, they are expected to sell themselves to marriage at the age of 13 for the dowry, where their eyes and hearts and minds are ALIVE with the pleasure of a poem, the joy of a song, the magic of a friendship.
Where, one teacher told us, the boys are angry about these clubs because: “now the girls have gotten together and decided they won’t let the boys touch them anymore.” (And they want to start a boys’ LitClub to be part of this change themselves, truly.) Where the clubs have become advocacy groups for values the girls care about. Where reading about lives other than their own have been teaching them that the world has possibility. Where they reach out and embrace us with whole love, and cheer that we will see them again tomorrow. Where, for all of this, they are open and trusting and loving. Where one club spent months collecting bits of yarn and string so they could embroider a gift for us. Where the gift was done in the most perfect way, with the most perfect stitching.
We planted three small trees at one of the schools today, while the girls sang for us.
We must plant these trees.