Empowered women…

… Empower women. (6/9/18)

This has been a mantra for me since high school. I have found it to be true in so many capacities. The way that I was raised by strong, fearless women, has shaped me into the woman I am today. My mom, my sister, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my friends, my teachers and my mentors are all to thank for that.

Today, we visited St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls Secondary School. It is a high school-aged boarding school for young women in the Adjumani District in Northern Uganda. Most of the students are refugees from South Sudan, but we met some Ugandan students as well. I had the chance to work the cameras on five interviews with five young women who attend school there. We were expecting that they would be shy or have brief answers… that could not be farther from the truth. Each of them spoke with passion, resilience and courage. They were each more eloquent than I have ever been in my entire life. They spoke about how they felt safe and secure at St. Mary’s and how they were passionate about music, science and sports.

We asked each of them what they hope for and they all decided to answer that question with their occupational dreams. All five of the young women told us that they want to become doctors, lawyers and ministers. Doctors to help cure diseases. Lawyers to fight for women’s rights. Ministers to change the way that the South Sudanese view educating women. I was in awe of their aspirations, and I know each of them have the determination to reach them.

Throughout our time in Uganda, we have learned a lot about the horrors of child marriages. Child marriages occur when a woman under 18 years is sent away to get married. Some of the staff at St. Mary’s told us the youngest child marriages that occur are as young as 12 years old. It is part of South Sudanese culture that young girls are seen as a commodity. Once they get married, they bring wealth to their parents and families. This is why the younger they get married, the better. We have learned that a lot of parents in South Sudan do not see any worth in sending their daughters to school. Their culture believes that daughters will bring more wealth by being a child bride than by receiving an education. We learned that the definition of “drop outs” at St. Mary’s is if a student does not return to school from a holiday break because their parents have sold them away to be a child bride. If your jaw has dropped, well, same.

“When you educate girls, you educate the nation”. A quote from one of the young women that we interviewed. I have never seen young women so grateful and dedicated to receiving an education. And now I know why. The odds, and even in most cases, the support of their families is against them. Their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers and ministers are completely theirs. They are receiving an education for them. It is heartbreaking to know that there are thousands of girls and young women who feel this way. But they are not a vulnerable population. You can see it in their eyes that they are not going to stop until they prove their families, and their culture, wrong. I wish I could’ve told them how much of an impact they had on me. But for now, I will be rooting for them and thinking of them as they work hard to achieve their goals.

One of our strong interviewees at St. Mary’s AKA my biggest hero

I was excited when I learned we were going to an all-girl’s school. I did not know what to expect but I was prepared to tell them, “you got this” and “keep going!”. To my surprise, they know exactly who they are. They know they can do this. They know the potential they have. They are empowered. Against all odds, they are empowered. They have empowered me, and I am honored to have learned from them what it means to be an empowered woman.

Peace n’ blessings!

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