Reflection on the Youth of Zambia
Once again Thanksgiving evening has been filled with wonderful friends and delicious food. Many volunteers within the province are in Mansa this week to celebrate, relax, eat, and participate in Girls Career Week in which girl students from around Luapula come to the provincial capital to learn life skills, about HIV and AIDs and the importance of finishing their education.
I feel as though just in the past week my list of things to be thankful for has grown immensely through the experiences shared by these girl students. I'm thankful for the ussual elements of my life; those in which I definitely take for granted - a loving family, fabulous friends, good health, food, shelter, water (though those last few have become a bit more rustic in the preceding months). Yet currently the list has grown to include;
gender equality in the states (though there are some discrepencies still of salaries/upper level positions in the workplace, and the continuous struggle against the traditional 'womens role' norms).
I am thankful to have a degree. Even if I feel lost and undirected its provided me with a security net unknown to women of Zambia who quite frequently end there schooling in the 5th or 6th grade in exchange for married life.
I am thankful for the childhood I was allowed...and even entitled to... to enjoy and the protection of the law and values associated with childrens rights. I've watched the past 6 months as the gender divide is taught at a very young age. The female children take an active role in household and motherly responsibilities as soon as they are able to walk, while the male children often spend free time playing football (the male children definitely still have household and field work to do yet the female children often perform those same tasks and then some).
I am thankful for the innocence of the young children in america...and can not even describe the depressing heavyness of my heart when looking at the faces of around 40 young female students - the brightest in their classes - the ones selected by their PCVs and teachers as showing promise and the ability to learn and spread these skills to her fellow classmates upon her return...looking at them and knowing that only 4 of them maintain their virginity (their ages ranging from 11 to 20). Many having had multiple partners allready...they haven't even all reached puberty yet.
I am thankful that these girls have had this opportunity to learn about their inner workings of their bodies, how and why HIV is transmitted, how to live healthy and positively, and have met some female professionals living within Mansa who have completed their schooling...and yet, just sitting in on sessions, I have come to the realization that we can not so easily change these cultural norms and values that have been engrained in these children from such a young age...that it will take a constant pressure/influence to even impact one child.
It was sadly aweing to witness the discrepencies in the attention and respect shown by the students and presenters of varying genders. There was much more participation and attention paid to the male speakers while the conversation changed from the topic of remaining in school to how old he was and if he was married with giggling in between.
I'm not exactly sure where I was going with this rambling...but I only hope to now spend a good deal of my time in the village focusing on female student empowerment and HIV/AIDS education. If I can influence just one girl to stay in school and avoid unwanted pregnancies I'll will feel accomplished.