Laetitia, a 15-year-old girl in Chad, points out a saying she has heard often: “To educate a girl is to educate a whole nation.”
This week marks the final episode of UNICEF’s Breathakingly beautiful, painfully said, but ultimately hopeful series, Coping with COVID-19, “The Future Through a Girl’s Eyes.”
As for telling the stories, “I have loved the experience of telling my story, because it allowed me to express myself and reach out to people,” says Makadidia, a 15-year-old from Mali. Though at first she felt stressed out knowing people would be watching her video and listening to her story. “I thought I wouldn’t be good enough,” she says. But over time, she learned to open up to people. “My advice to the young people watching this is to never lose hope, to believe in their dreams and to contribute to world development.”
Climate Change and COVID-19: Two Challenges at Once
During the fifth week of filming, the communities of many of the girls experienced flooding and other increasingly extreme weather events. We are reminded how fragile these communities are when their already limited resources are stretched even thinner on account of the pandemic.
Safina and Madhu, two 13-year-old girls from Nepal, describe how heavy rainfall led to flooding that damaged or destroyed homes and affected stored food, a precious commodity. Their families had hoped to use the money from their crops for household expenses. “But that dream is gone because we lost them.”
Antsa (16, of Madagascar) has positive thoughts. “When COVID-19 is over, something I want people to remember is the relationships they have with their families.” “We must not forget to talk to each other and spend time together.”
“I still feel the same stress, fear, and anxiety,” says Makadidia. “When I think about COVID-19, I am really troubled. I have no idea how our lives will get back to normal.”
Education Is the Future – the Future Is Education
Zulfa (15, of Indonesia) graduated from junior high school, but without the fanfare earlier classes were afforded. She says she will remember a phrase she heard many times: “It’s better for us to keep our distance temporarily than to be apart forever.” She recognizes that many people have learned about the importance of health and sanitation. This, she says, includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining immunity, and exercising.
“Adolescent girls face many difficulties in their lives,” says Laetitia (15, of Chad). “Among these, one of the major problems they face is dropping out of school and getting married early,” continues Bijita (15, of India). “Parents are not giving permission to adolescent girls to study, learn any skill, or go outside their houses, says Madhu. And, reveals Sangamithra (15, India), “They are not in an environment where they can share their problems.”
“Teen girls are a valuable asset that deserves to be protected,” declares Zulfa. And Bijita hopes “every adolescent girl is safe and secure, has sound health, and is able to fulfill her dreams.”
Esta (15, of Niger) proclaims there should be no discrimination on account of gender, religion, tribe, or nation, “so that everyone can play their part to help society.” Education for all is essential.
The Girls Have Hope for Their Futures
Esta wants to help advise her nation’s government. “Children should be allowed to study, especially girls.” Antsa would like to see an end to early and forced marriage. Laetitia envisions taking an active part to put an end to gender inequality and the harmful practices it bring about. For that, girls will have to be educated like boys.
Bijita hopes the problems adolescent girls face today will disappear. “I wish they don’t have to drop out of school, get married early, or face any sexual violence.” Education will afford girls better jobs. “For this to happen,” she adds, “parents should help them out and our government should provide the necessary help.”
Sangamithra says that if her parents support her studying now, “I will be able to achieve my dreams and then get married later.”
Fanja (15, of Madagascar) wants to be a nurse “for the sake of the future” to help the many women who die in childbirth or of malaria.
Hamadou (15, of Niger) wants to finish her studies to become a doctor. “I want to help and save lives,” she says. So does Imoro (15, of Ghana). “I want to take good care of people in the future.”
Memunatu (15, of Ghana) aspires to become a journalist, as does Trisha (15, of Bangladesh). “As a journalist I want to help people,” she says. “Through reporting, I want to bring to light the problems people face.”
Their Messages to Us, the Adults
These 16 girls from 9 nations feel they have little or no voice in their communities. So what messages do they have to those of us watching their video diaries?
“I ask the adults… to protect and take care of their children, to understand that we, the children, have something to say.”
Zulfa “I hope everyone who has watched the videos I made can remember me and my stories… can remember what my dreams and desires are.” “Don’t ever change your spirit and don’t ever get discouraged. … Never give up pursuing your dreams.”
“We must have hope and courage in everything we do in our lives, and we will overcome,” says Laetitia.
Bijita would like to tell the elders “to let their children study and help them fulfill their dreams and aspirations.”
And Antsa’s message is, “We, the youth, are going to build the future. Make their education a priority. Respect our rights.
Moreover, say the girls, “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.”
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