Each Year Counts
The women’s group had gathered to learn about the reusable sanitary pads we were showing them. They call them sanitary “towels.” They are in short supply and high demand in developing countries, where girls often miss as many as 15 days of school a term due to lack of sanitary supplies. Kenya Keys Board member Sharron Reichle, who specializes in this field, had brought different samples and had come to talk to the women about sewing them.
Things got pretty wild and crazy, as one of the women demonstrated what it was like to try to walk, carrying a heavy load, with a pad that is slipping around. United by laughter, we shared our common womanhood. Later we were united by our tears, as we heard stories of heartbreak and suffering.
But before it all got going, Sharron had asked the women to write their names on name tags. I got to be an observer. Each woman had introduced themselves and said how far they’d gone in school. Unlike the women in Taru, most of whom never completed primary school, let alone secondary school (high school), these women had all gone to secondary school. All but two had even graduated! The two who didn’t finish had completed two of the four years. Obviously their English was not as good as the others’. But even more telling, when it came time to fill out their name tags, these two women passed them to their neighbors to fill out for them.
What did this so dramatically illustrate? That every single year in school matters for a girl (or a boy, for that matter). These women with two years of secondary school were certainly better off than those with fewer years. They knew their numbers. They could understand English. But with just a year or two more, they could have written their own name tags with confidence, even years later. And written other things as well.
Statistics show that for each year of school a woman has, she will have fewer children. And those children will be better fed, regardless of the food supply. Because educated women are more resourceful and they learn how to network. They learn to exert at least a small amount of control over their lives. Each year counts.
Just ask a woman who has forgotten how to write her name.