Girls face unique obstacles to reaching their full potential, especially in the developing world. On October 11, we acknowledge the International Day of the Girl Child by shining a light on one girl’s tragically common life story — and what we’re doing together to empower millions of girls to write a different story.
Ending extreme poverty is possible, but it can’t happen if half the population is held back from reaching their full potential. Strong and empowered girls and women create a stronger world. But millions of girls with amazing potential still face dark and limited futures because of the obstacles they face at every stage of their lives.
Here’s what it’s like to be one of these girls … I am a girl. I could be your daughter. I could be your sister. I could be your niece. But I am a girl who was born into extreme poverty in the developing world. And this is the story of my life...
Our family lived very far from the health clinic. So, my mother had to give birth to me at home: a mud hut with a straw roof. I am the youngest of four children. There was one more, but she died the day she was born. So I was one of the lucky ones — I survived.
As a baby, I spent most of my time on my mother’s back. She was always moving. Cleaning, collecting firewood, helping my father work in the field, and walking for hours — twice a day — to the water hole.
She knew the water was dirty and could make us sick. But she didn’t have a choice. We had to have water, and that was the only place to get it.
My father worked the small patch of land by our home, trying to grow corn, enough for us to eat and some to sell at the market. But when rain didn’t come, we wouldn’t have enough to eat — much less any to sell.
I remember many times eating only one meal a day. My mother knew we were hungry. But she was doing the best she could.
One morning soon after I turned 5, my mother told me it was time to help collect water. At first, I was excited. I was given a small container. It didn’t hold much, but I knew that every drop counts. So, I walked in the heat and the dust, proudly carrying it, trying my best to keep up with the others.
Every day after getting water, my brothers went off to school. My parents could only afford the uniforms and fees for two of us. So my sister and I had to stay home.
But around my eighth birthday, my mother told my sister and me good news: We’d had a stronger harvest, and they’d saved enough money for us to go to school too. At least for now.
School was everything I dreamed it would be. Yes, it was crowded, so some of us had to sit on the floor for our lessons, and we didn’t have many books. But I was learning: about numbers and words and reading. I loved school.
But when I was 11 years old, I got my period. My school didn’t have latrines for girls to clean ourselves in privacy. So on those days I had to stay home. I hated missing class every month. It was hard to keep up, and over time I fell behind in my lessons.
Then, one night when I was 13, I overheard my parents talking about preparing me for marriage. By then, my sister had already gone through the traditional practice of female genital mutilation and had been forced to marry an older man. I begged them not to make me go through it. I wanted to keep going to school and learning so I could become a teacher. But they said, “Child, this is our custom, and we need the bride price your husband will give us. This is how it’s always been done.”
Not long after, I had “the cut,” and I was married off to a man I didn’t even know, let alone love. He was 28 and already had three children. His wife had died during the birth of their last child — so I became their new mother. Within a month, I was pregnant. I still dreamed of becoming a teacher. But every day as my belly grew, my dream slipped further and further away.
The day I felt my baby coming, I gathered the children, and we walked the long distance to my mother’s hut. By the time we arrived, I was exhausted and in great pain. After many hours, my baby came. But my mother looked very concerned. There was too much blood. I had a postpartum hemorrhage, which is common in women who have had the cut.
By some miracle, I survived, and so did my baby — a girl. The next week I turned 15. As I strapped my daughter to my back for my walk to get water, I almost wished she had been a boy.
Turning this story around
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. The powerful and encouraging reality is — all over the world — it’s beginning to change.
Together, we’re equipping girls and women to rewrite their stories and become powerful agents of change who transform their families and communities.
In the last 5 and a half years alone, more than 14 million girls and women in some of the world’s toughest places have participated in World Vision programs that are enabling them to live stronger, safer, and more productive lives.
When girls and women gain equal access and opportunity, everyone wins. Children are better cared for, families are stronger, and communities are more prosperous. And when her potential is unleashed? Extreme poverty doesn’t stand a chance.