I had the delight of doing my daily run in Ithaca, New York this morning. I love to run across the campus of my alma mater, Cornell University. Nostalgia, gorges, classic campus architecture, and the view of Cayuga Lake combine for a happy blur of memories even during the misery of running.
I ran past the Balch Hall dormitory, where I smiled at the 6th floor window of the room where I spent my first year at Cornell. I remember heading out from that room every morning, out through the courtyard, and through this archway towards campus. As I look at this pathway, what I remember most vividly is the daily sense that anything was possible.
Cornell unlocked possibility, opportunity, and wonder for me.
When I think about Cornell, I also think about how I would love to give this sense of possibility to the girls in the world’s poorest places.
Margaret is a 12-year-old in Kenya who stopped going to school because her family needed her to help in their house with caring for her younger siblings and working on their small farm. Six-year-old Diana is not in school because her family cannot afford the cost of school fees and shoes. 10-year-old Angelique is out of school because her mother only has the money to pay for one child in her house to go to school, and her brother has that privilege.
Elizabeth stopped going to school when she was 14. She was missing too many days every month when she had her period. She does not have the money for sanitary napkins, and when you are in a tiny school with one shared, stinky latrine, it is far too embarrassing for a girl to handle the messiness of her monthly menstruation without clean, private facilities. Moreover, her father was always nervous that something bad would happen to her during the long, 6-mile walk from her family’s small settlement to the only school she can attend.
Investing in education – especially education for girls – is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. When you send girls to school, economies change, women and children are more healthy, and injustices start to be corrected.
Right now, more than 75 million school-aged children are not in primary school (where they should be.) 75 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in places like Kenya. Too many of these children are girls. One in five eligible girls worldwide are not going to primary school.
It’s easy for me to be very nostalgic about my (many) school years, but this goes beyond nostalgia. How can we open the doors so that more girls in poor places can go to school at all? How can we help girls stay in school so that families and communities and global economies can be transformed?
I have the privilege of working in Kenya through a partnership that Indiana University established to revolutionize healthcare for people in some of the world’s poorest places. Indiana University partners with Moi University in Kenya to demonstrate how global health can be improved through an academic partnership for clinical care, education, and research. My own work to improve HIV care for children in poor places is all done within the context of this partnership.
While we have a lot of sad and scary news coming out of Kenya this week, our 20+ year AMPATH partnership also has a lot of great successes that can be celebrated. Healthcare systems changed. Lives saved. Lots of GOOD stories.
Every 3 years, our program holds a big gala event in Indianapolis to celebrate the work we are doing with our friends and supporters. If anyone who reads this blog wants to attend, I would LOVE to see you there. You can register at kenyagala.org
I have been struggling this weekend, unable to tear myself away from the terrible news and photos from the events in Nairobi. Amidst so many stories of violence and shootings, this one felt very close to me.
Good friends of mine, one of whom works for me, were trapped in the Westgate Mall as the attackers brought violence and terror. Thankfully, my friends were among those who eventually escaped safely. Many of my other friends were nearby, and this is a place that I have been to many times myself. I am so, so, so grateful that my loved ones are safe.
Still, my heart is heavy. And even though I know that I am jet-lagged and tired and this makes everything seem more dim, this attack is sad and scary news. I struggle with how to help my team process this trauma, with being far away, and even with the what-ifs.
I am reminded of this:
We go out into the world and we risk engaging with all that is painful and terrible because there is so much that is beautiful and precious. We risk the terrible because of the beautiful. We keep taking steps in the darkness because we trust that there will be light. And we need each other.
Trusting in light.