“I want to be a doctor, I want to be a nurse, I want to be an airline pilot.”
I am in a classroom at Kilimani in Northern Kenya. The rows of wooden desks are orderly and the children neatly dressed in red and blue uniforms. They have just finished singing a song to welcome me. They are happy, smiling. When I ask them what they want to be when they grow up their aspirations are boundless. These children are the lucky ones, they have the gift of education.
Kilimani is one of seventeen public primary schools within Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a 62,000 acre privately owned park on the slopes of Mount Kenya. The classrooms and school offices are airy and cool. The interior walls of the adobe are whitewashed and the concrete floor smooth and clean. Faith Riunga, the Education Programme Manager shows me around. We walk through the kitchen. An enormous cauldron of vegetable stew is simmering, it smells good. Outside is the vegetable garden planted with with greens and corn where children learn practical skills. Vegetables harvested here help fill the pot in the kitchen. A borehole well is planned to provide water for drip irrigation.
Walking back through the building I see a yellowed copy of an article pinned up on the wall. Its title: “Girl power: The way to change the world.” There is a photograph of four girls in uniform walking along a dusty road with their bags of books and the forward to “Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economics,” from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, October 2011.
Faith Riunga sees my interest and smiles.”Children are the best agents of change,” she says. The girls as well as the boys at Kilimani are in excellent hands, and they love the school.
“Many of them come to school on Saturdays and Sundays. There is always food available here – and that may not be the case at their homes. It is also clean – there are no fleas or other insects. We have a team of very dedicated teachers who are happy to come in at weekends.”
Kindergarten to 8th grade is now mandatory and free in Kenya. There is a gap in the reality however. Government funding is not sufficient even for basics such as paper and pencils so schools are dependent on outside funding. As for the uniforms, which are about 300 Kenyan shillings – those are paid for by the parents which may account for the one size fits all look.
There is no state program for high school in Kenya. That worries Faith. “If children cannot get scholarships or pay the $900 a year tuition when they leave 8th grade they may become part of organized gangs, get involved in crime and girls often become pregnant. So the vicious cycle of poverty repeats itself”.
I thought of these children, and others I had photographed in Cambodia, The Solomon Islands and Kurdistan while watching Girl Rising. This powerful new movie produced by 10 x 10, features the lives of nine girls who overcome devastating odds in developing countries around the globe. It shows uphill struggles girls face. It tugs at the heartstrings because it is reality.
Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Selena Gomez are among those who contributed voice-overs. Academy Award winner Rachel Portman with Hans Zimmer wrote the poignant score.
10 x 10 is a global action campaign for girls and the message of the movie is, Educate girls and you will change the world, because when you educate a girl you can break the cycle of poverty in one generation.
I walked out of the screening onto the San Francisco Street. I thought of Faith Ruinga, her comment about the cycle of poverty and its relationship to education. I thought of her dedicated teachers, John and Mercy. Thought of the news clipping on the wall of that school so far away in the lee of Mount Kenya. Thought about the work being done by Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the awareness being created by Girl Rising. The movie was heady, disturbing and inspiring. As I watched a brand new shiny maroon Tesla drive up the street the dichotomy was overwhelming. I pondered on one of the questions raised after the movie screening. Why hadn’t a disadvantaged area in the US been included. The answer was that education is not denied to anyone in the United States. Here we have choices. We have many choices.
Here is the official trailer which was shown in January 2013 at Sundance Film Festival
10 x 10 partnered with Theatrical On Demand℠ film distribution service, Gathr Films to distribute Girl Rising to movie theatres and groups around the country by request. I saw Girl Rising at the Schwab headquarters in San Francisco. If you or your organization would like to host a screening go to: Girl Rising How to Host a Screening Guide