One of the more memorable conversations in my life came last year while staying in Nairobi. One of the few women that applied for our university scholarship when we initially offered it a year earlier, wanted to meet with me in person. We had kept in contact over the previous year.
In her early twenties, married with a couple of kids, she was still trying her hardest to finish her education. Like most of us and no matter how many times I travel to developing nations, I still take my education for granted. Staring in her eyes though, I could see how important education was to her. She grew up in South Sudan during a time of constant war. She comes from a society that does not value the education of women. Her father would walk down to her primary school and physically pull her out of class. He wanted her to help around the house with women’s work, and feared, as many do, that an educated daughter would not fetch a high dowry (many families rely on the cattle given from the groom to the bride’s family during the wedding process). She kept going to school and he kept pulling her out. Soon those verbal reprimands turned into physical beatings. In fact, at one point her father beat her to within inches of her life. As we talked, she leaned over and showed me the scars around her head. Some of her senses do not function properly because of the abuse. And yet after all that, a society that does not value women’s education and has little to no structure in place to educate women, an early marriage and multiple children, no funds to pay for school, born into a country ravaged with war, and a father who nearly beat her to death because of her educational aspirations, she still wants nothing more then a college degree. In many ways she has been quite unlucky, but she is lucky enough to have a husband that supports her goals to be educated. As we finished our conversations, she quietly got up, thanked me, and then left. She walked to a bus station nearby and got on a bus home. The bus ride was 2 hours both ways. She spent no time in Nairobi. She took the bus just to meet me. Just for an opportunity to continue her education.
As I walked away, I realized that it is impossible for anyone that has not grown up in that environment or one similar to truly understand the difficulties many people throughout the world encounter at every turn, and the drive to succeed through education. I realized that we needed to add a female scholarship recipient.