When reality hits you in the face …
It has definitely seen better days, the rugged bus I am travelling on. I look outside, thinking that it reflects what I have so often seen on the other side of the windows. A rough exterior that camouflages the strength, stubbornness and pride amidst the poverty. The strong will to survive.
Every day I have the reality in my face and the longer I travel, the more painfully aware of my own privileged background I become.
Later, when I stroll around one of the popular tourist villages amongst other visitors, I see her. It is late at night, the sun has gone down and in amongst all the people, this eight or nine year old girl is selling souvenirs. No doubt her contribution to the family’s frail economy. In this impoverished country, the indigenous population, which she represents, is the poorest. I see more children of her age out this evening. I fear for her and am wondering how long the tourists will be content with just souvenirs. How long will she remain a child? Many come here to find young girls, very young girls, and this in a country where abuse, unfortunately, is quite common.
Our eyes meet. At home in Norway, children of her age are sleeping safely in a warm bed. Another day of school is awaiting them tomorrow. I wonder if this girl has any opportunities. Here mostly boys are sent to school, since the usually large families can not afford to give all their children an opportunity at education (if they can afford it at all). The girl’s chances to be chosen are very slim. Those who do get to start school do not stay for many years, before they have to return home to help look after younger siblings and the household, while their parents are out working.
Apart from the economy, there is a challenge with attitude, to see the value of giving a girl an education. It turns out that educated women wait longer before getting married and tend to have fewer children. These are factors that reduce the risk of birth-related problems for both mother and child. That women receive education not only contributes to better health for children, but also to women being an important voice, not only for themselves and their family, but in this girl’s, case for their people.
Another challenge is the safety of those girls who do go to school. Especially in more sparsely populated areas where their daily travel can be quite long. The odds are against her, the girl with the souvenirs. As I watch her disappear in the crowd, I truly hope she gets a chance. I want to see her sitting at home with school books, not out in the streets, in a corrupt country, that attracts too many wolves in search of new areas to hunt their prey. I want to see that she has a future with opportunities to develop her potential and find a way out of poverty.
The girl with the souvenirs.
This was our contribution to Plan Norway´s blog contest in 2010 to focus on girls and their (lack of) rights.