International Day of the Girl Child, October 11
Shanize Njeri Wanjiku is 10-years-old and lives in the sprawling urban informal settlement of half a million people, known as Mathare, on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. A few weeks ago Shanize was the feature of a story on ABC’s 7.30; the story focused on the gigantic heart of this little girl and her gift for poetry. Through a local community organisation Shanize was offered the chance to write and perform poems that gave expression to her lived experience and her hopes for her own future and that of her community.
Shanize performed this poem she wrote:
“People struggling for survival not knowing what tomorrow holds. Congested from our homes lies the big garbage.
From the right to the left, blocked sewages and stagnant water. Children starving for food together with the roaming animals. Look at the life we are living, look at the life we are facing.In the morning I wake up and go to school. Life is not easy and sometimes it’s really bad because when you are sent somewhere as a girl, you could be abducted and get raped. This should be stopped.”
Close to Mathare is another informal settlement area called Eastleigh, where the Loreto Sisters run a school for girls called St Teresa’s and work pastorally amongst the community itself. Kenyan Loreto girls just like Shanize face the same challenges she names so assuredly; challenges that the Loreto girls in Australia do not face, yet some that surely might be known by girls connected to our works in Vietnam and Timor-Leste.
So on October 11, as the United Nations declared International Day of the Girl Child, what do we as Loreto people are committed to the education, justice and empowerment of girls all over the world, do for girls like Shanize?
I think we stand up for girls; stand up for girls like Shanize and like so many others whose names we do not know. We tell their stories to our own girls. We look for their news in the media. We place them in our prayers. We advocate for policies and decisions our government makes that will have a positive impact on their lives. We travel smartly and ethically. We put our money where our mouths are and support the work of Mary Ward International Australia. We support, nurture, encourage, protect and stretch the girls in our lives and we form them to do the same as women who will make their own the futures. We want them to dream their dreams for a better world, for themselves and for all girls.
Another Kenyan girl child poet, Eunice Akoth 12-years-old, was featured at the Women In the World Summit in New York City in 2015. Eunice, from the slum of Kibera in Nairobi is another incredible performance poet, just like Shanize. On this year’s International day of the Girl Child, let her words ring in our ears…..
”Every mighty king was once a crying baby!
Every great tree was once a tiny seed!
Every tall building was once in paper!
And so I dream my dream!”
Words: Director of Mission, Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak, Michelle McCarty
Image: Students at St Teresa’s Girls School, located in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. There are approximately 600 students at the secondary school with roughly 30 staff members.