Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mary's Story

This is a picture of Mary, who recently participated in NESEI’s radio debate program. During the debate discussions, Mary was quick to voice her opinion and build strong arguments to help her team. Smiling and smart, she was confident and persuasive in the radio booth, never shying away from stating her points with precision and eloquence. So, it came at no surprise when the young men and women who participated with her in the program voted her “best speaker”.

What’s surprising is how Mary got to the radio program that day.

Mary attends a high school on the outskirts of Yei Town, on a major road with an end point at the Ugandan border. She lives in a small village off another major road that leads out of town, in the opposite direction. Anyone who has visited Yei before is familiar with these two roads. Even with 4 Wheel Drive vehicles it can be slow and challenging to navigate between these veins of red dirt that crisscross downtown Yei. Every morning, Mary begins walking on one of these roads and 10 miles later she arrives at school.

To get to school on time, Mary wakes up long before dawn to begin her journey at 5am. She leaves the mud hut she shares with her family and follows a small footpath that zigzags through tall blades of grass and teak trees. After nearly a mile, the path joins the main road, which is peppered with growing potholes and is calm in the pre-dawn quiet. In a few hours, this road will be congested with motorbikes and women trekking between villages with water and firewood balanced on their heads. The only traffic on the road at dawn is Mary and a few of her classmates.

As the morning sun begins to grow hot, Mary arrives at campus. Her school resembles that of many schools in Sudan. Some buildings lack roofs, secure walls, desks or blackboards. Hundreds of students huddle in classrooms whose mud and stick walls shed spider-webbed light across their crisp school uniforms. Mary makes her journey to this humble school each day because education is a priority to her. Twenty miles a day is a small price for a high school education that can allow her to better provide for her family and community.

Each year, Mary walks the distance between New York and Los Angeles- twice. But she doesn’t have to. For around the same cost of renting a car for a weekend road trip, you could help Mary attend a quality girls’ boarding school just outside her village for an entire year. Instead of spending her spare time walking, she could spend it studying. You can help girls like Mary by supporting the Girls Rising Campaign, which provides financial support and educational programs to young women in Sudan. It doesn’t take much to make a major difference in the life of a girl like Mary.

Sometimes that difference can be measured in miles.

In the photo: Mary stands proud and smiling, with her village as her background.

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