Stories

The ongoing food crisis, which the United Nations described as the worst humanitarian emergency since World War II, has put Africa front and centre in our newsfeeds.

Unfortunately, it often takes extreme and tragic events for the rest of the world to turn its attention to what is happening in the world’s second-largest continent.

High levels of poverty are still experienced by far too many children and families in a number of African countries. But focusing solely on these problems can lead to outdated stereotypes that all children in Africa are “poor kids” living in traditional huts. This is not an accurate reflection – the reality is far more complex, and far more interesting.

So here are a few facts that might just change the way you think about Africa, and it’s place in our global neighbourhood.

Four out of five people in Africa have a mobile phone

It is a common stereotype that children in Africa have no access to modern technology. That’s not true – currently, around 80% have mobile phones.

In Kenya, the statistics are even higher with nine out of ten people owning a mobile phone. But this is still in stark contrast to the fact that one in two houses does not have adequate sanitation and the average school has only one toilet for every 100 children. This can lead to the outbreak of disease, many of which are particularly deadly for young children.

My father and mother are rice and groundnut (peanut) farmers. Neither one of them went to school. My mother got married around 18 years old and had six children, five girls and one boy, but one girl passed away. I am the youngest.

My two oldest sisters got married at 16 years old, and my brother was sent to live with a relative in Senegal to become a baker. My other sister was in school but dropped out when she got pregnant in grade nine because the school wouldn`t accept her anymore.

Until I was 12 years old, I stayed home all day and took care of my eldest sister`s baby. I wasn`t happy, since all the kids around me were going to school. I wanted to go to school because I could not speak English, so my mother finally allowed me to go to school. She advised me to do well in school. Sometimes she would cry in telling me this.

I was very focused on education because I kept hearing that education was the key to success.

Our school was lucky because ChildFund brought the Aflatoun (Children`s Club) program to us, which is a club where we get to together after to school to learn and play games. At our club I learnt about my rights. I liked going to Aflatoun, and I worked really hard and eventually was chosen as vice president by the teachers and students. In grade six, I was voted to become president, out of the 120 students in the group.

One day my father told me there was a man who wanted to marry me. He was much older, about 30 or more years older and already had a wife and a child. He was from another country and wasn`t educated. I did not want this. My father said the man would take care of me and pay for my school, and if I said no, I would no longer be his daughter, and he would take everything away.

He gave me three days to change my mind. The man tried to give me money to convince me, but I gave the money directly to my father and said I didn`t want it. I refused to take anything from that man. My mother couldn`t do anything to help me.

I continued going to school, and I was very sad. My teacher saw something was wrong with me, and eventually three teachers came to my house to see what had happened. They spoke to my father and learned that he was going to make me marry. They tried to convince him not to marry me off because I was doing so well in school. My father said he didn`t have any money to pay for school. The teachers and the local community organisation said they would support me. My father said that from now onward the teachers and God would be responsible for me.

With the support of my teachers, I stayed at home and finished sixth grade. ChildFund sponsored me to go into upper primary school by paying my school fees, and I went to live with another family.

I am in a good school, and I will be in eighth grade this coming year. My father is happy because he couldn`t pay school fees for me. He is a poor man, not a bad man, and he thought marrying me off was the only way that I could be taken care of.

My advice for other girls is that education is the key to success in life, and they should focus on education. Girls should be aware that many problems are caused by boys and sometimes even teachers, like sexual harassment. Girls should speak out to people and tell a teacher they can really trust.

Earlier this year, I was chosen to represent The Gambia at the Day of the African Child conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sky really is the limit!