In case you somehow missed it or don’t have the academic year permanently emblazoned on your psyche, children are heading back to school. Facebook is full of posts of my friends’ children on their first day, and they are adorable — proud, exasperated, so much more grown-up than last year. My nephew had this ridiculously hilarious and nerdy statement in response to his parents walking him to school for his first day of second grade: “Depart from me or I shall become a laughingstock!”
In Kenya, Dorothea has been scraping together every bit of money that she can. As the new school year, she needs to buy a new uniform if her granddaughter, Dinah, is going to attend high school. The regulation blouse, skirt, socks, and shoes cost far more than Dorothea has left at the end of one month, or even six months.
The total price for Dinah to go back to school comes close to $50. It seems impossible.
School attendance is a sacrifice of love and community in a place like Kenya. Dorothea and her granddaughter have been getting by on just one meal a day for the last few weeks to save a few shillings. An empty belly in exchange for an education. Dorothea has gathered small amounts of money from her two remaining adult children, from her neighbors, from her pastor and her prayer group. Money from anyone she can think to ask. Everyone is asking at this time of year. School fees, school uniforms, books. Everyone comes together to contribute what they can.
Dinah’s parents both died in the past 18 months, and Dorothea now holds Dinah’s future in her hands. Hands with knuckles swollen from arthritis and age and 60 years of cleaning houses count out one crumpled small bill after another in the school uniform store, praying that they will be enough. Enough to launch her granddaughter into a future of promise.
What if $50 means that Dinah will not go to high school?
This story is echoed around the world. This is what back-to-school looks like around the world: Mothers, fathers, grandparents, communities making sacrifices to launch their children into a better future. Everyone circles round to contribute whatever they can, to fan the small flame of hope.
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. When I see the back-to-school sales for pens and crayons and notebooks, when I see my friends’ cutie pie children in their uniforms, I get nostalgic. But the global back-to-school needs go 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?