Life

What it's like to be a girl around the world

This year’s International Day of the Girl Child is themed around education and skills. Our young foreign correspondents told us about their schools, their ambitions and their lives.

Every girl in this issue has one thing in common: they all see education as vital to their future. This year’s International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th is themed around education and skills: 600 million adolescent girls will enter the workforce in the next decade. Our six foreign correspondents reported told us about their lives in their countries and, especially, about their schools and their ambitions. 

Rafeef, 15, lives in Jordan

“When I first came to Jordan I was cut off from school for two years”

Rafeef, 15, and her family fled to Jordan from Aleppo, Syria in 2014 after armed men invaded her home. Her eldest sister was shot and her father committed suicide.

“I was born in Syria and I stayed there until grade two. We left when the war broke out. We were living alone and felt like it wasn’t safe for us to stay there. We came to Jordan in 2014 so I’ve been living here for five years. It’s better than living in Syria with the current situation. It’s my second country, of course it feels like home. I have two married sisters, one is divorced. One of them got married at 15 and the other 16.

“I live in the East Side of Sweileh in a house with my mum, my five sisters, and my divorced sister’s son. I like it here, Alhamdulillah (thank God). I have a lot of friends. I don’t play outside but I like to sing in my free time. I would say shawarma [a sliced meat kebab] is my favourite food.

“When I first came to Jordan I was cut off from school for two years because my family wasn’t able to send me to school. I had to work to help my mum with the house expenses so I was selling socks next to a mosque.

“When I was working I’d leave work at 10am and come back at 4pm. It was a very bad feeling to be working while all the other girls were in their uniforms walking to and from school. I used to be very embarrassed being seen on the street selling socks, because I wanted to be with them at school.

“I now go to Caesaria school in Sweileh [a district of Jordan’s capital city Amman]. My mom walks me and my sisters there and picks us up at the end of the day. It takes 10 minutes. When I went back to school it was really nice. I was so happy to see my teachers and friends again! There were also a couple of new girls at my class who seemed to be really nice. I love my friends and my school. My favourite subject is maths. I’m very grateful to CARE and the program that CARE offers because otherwise I would have been also forced to get married, and lost all my hopes and dreams.

“Some girls leave school because of early marriage. I think early marriage is wrong because the girl is still young, she’s still a child at that age. She should wait till she’s at least 18. My sister got married when she was 16, but she was unable to maintain a home because she was young herself. She got a divorce and is not living with us along with her son. Girls should continue their education because education is woman’s weapon. Sitting at home will not benefit them.”

What’s your dream? I want to be an architect so I can build homes for other refugees like me.

CARE International supplement Rakeef’s family income, meaning Rafeef doesn’t have to contribute to their budget and can stay in education. CARE International works around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. To find out more about CARE’s work, or to make a donation please visit careinternational.org.uk

Shubarna, 15, lives in Faridpur, Bangladesh

“I want to study and do a useful job, like be a doctor”

“The school I attend is across the river and I use a small boat to get there. It takes about one hour. But when the storms come, water surrounds our house on all four sides and I can’t leave it to cross the river. If it’s windy, there are even high waves. The other problem is that if a house is not raised, then water comes in. This doesn’t happen to our house, but it has happened to a lot of our neighbours. It makes life very difficult. The water can ruin rice or vegetable crops and it’s extremely difficult to burn wood to cook. The toilets can overflow too. When the storms come the wind makes a ‘shoon shoon’ noise and sometimes the rain on the roof is so loud we have to shout to hear each other. The flood water smells like churned-up soil.

“Luckily, when we can’t reach school, we can use a local space built by ActionAid and run by local tutors to continue our studies. If it wasn’t for this, I’d be sat at home unable to do much. If you don’t have a teacher and other students to talk to, and discuss things with, then you can’t study. It’s boring and time passes slowly.

“And I am too young to get a job and if I can’t get a job and I can’t study, my parents will want to arrange my marriage. Our neighbours will say ‘what is your daughter doing?’ and if my parents couldn’t say ‘she is at school’ then people would start to talk about my marriage. I feel bad when I hear of the girls who get married young, some of whom I have known since we were little. We were at school together and now I picture them forced into arranged marriages and having small children, while I get to carry on studying.

“I spoke to one of them recently and she said: “Don’t get married. Stay in school, it is much better.” This made me feel really bad. I can live my life with freedom, but she has lost her freedom – she must listen to her husband and in-laws.

What’s your dream? I want to study and do a useful job, like be a doctor. I like this profession the best. It means I can help people. And if doctors are not available in this area then I can help the people here.

ActionAid have allowed Shurbana’s family and nine others to live in a village raised above the highest recorded flood point. The work with some of the world’s poorest women and girls. To donate visit www.actionaid.org.uk

Football-loving Lucciana, 15, lives with her family in San Luis Potosi, Mexico

“I think girls and boys should be equal and I believe we must all work together”

“I live with my parents, brother and sister in a city called San Luis Potosi in my lovely country. I love living here, it’s beautiful and the weather is pretty good most of the time, apart from December and January when it is cold and kind of rainy. But I actually like the rainy days.

“I go to a Catholic School and we have to wear a uniform every day. Three days a week it’s a dark blue formal uniform with a white shirt, and on the other two days we wear a sports uniform for PE classes.

“School starts at 7am and finishes at 2.30pm. My favourite subject is biology and I love music. Pop songs mostly, but a little bit of Latin music too. My 17-year-old brother Manolo is my hero because he is such a strong guy. He is so kind, always concerned about me and takes care of me. I just love my brother. I love playing soccer with him or my friends.

“In Mexico when you turn 15 some girls throw a big party. They wear a big fancy dress and dance and sing and have fun late night. But I preferred to go to on a cruise with my family. I love to travel, I would love to go to Paris. I think it’s one of the greatest cities in the world and I would love to go to the Cordon Bleu school to study to be a fine chef.

“I love to cook, it’s what I enjoy doing the most. Whenever I have time I bake cakes or muffins, but my favourite food is sushi or tacos. Everybody loves tacos!

“One of the biggest worries me and my friends have is there are many bad people in the world who just don’t care. I think girls and boys should be equal and I believe we must all work together. One of the biggest challenges that my generation has to face is to get prepared for the future, to try to save our planet from all the terrible things we do to nature.

What’s your dream? “Absolutely, peace in the world.”

Faith, 14, lives in Zambia

“I have seen America in books and would like to experience it, but it is important to me to live and work in my own community”

“When I was three years old, my parents died and I went to live with my aunt, uncle and four younger cousins, who all treat me like a sister. In Zambia, school is free until you reach Grade 8 [age 11], at which point you have to start paying. After my uncle died when I was 12 it was hard for my aunt to raise the money so I stopped going to school and stayed at home to help with jobs on the farm like sweeping, cooking and washing clothes.

“At that time, I thought I would have to get married and have children. I didn’t want that; I didn’t feel I could raise children. I wouldn’t want them to suffer or to go through what I’ve gone through. I don’t want someone else to be controlling my life, I just want to be in charge of myself. Then my prayers were answered: I got sponsored and was able to return to school.

“I never miss a class. On a typical school day, I wake up at 5am, take a bath and walk to school with my friends. It takes about half an hour can be very hot. The school day start classes at 7am and finishes at 3.40pm. I’m good at science and maths, and I was recently made a Prefect.

“I have never travelled. I have seen America in books and would like to experience it, but it is important to me to live and work in my own community. Being a girl of 15 in Zambia is a time when life can take any turn. You are considered to be mature and ready to take on responsibility.”

My greatest dream for the future: “I hope to go to university so that my dreams can come true and I can become a doctor to secure a better future for me and my family.”

Faith’s schooling is made possible by sponsorship from The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED. They tackle poverty and inequality in rural Africa by educating girls and investing in opportunities for young women. Visit camfed.org to donate

Sharon, 15, lives in Beijing

“My dad is my hero. He is an intelligent, self-disciplined and persevering man who gives me so much guidance in life”

Sharon is 15 years old and lives with her parents in Beijing. An only child, she loves school and dreams of going to University and having a successful career.

“I live in an apartment in Beijing with my parents. I don’t have any siblings so I get to have my own bedroom, I have a big picture of myself on the wall.

“I cycle to school which takes about 20 minutes. We wear a school uniform which is blue and white, and there are several sets for the different seasons. They look very nice.

“Lessons start at 7.40am and usually finish at 5.15pm, but sometimes we stay even later. I don’t mind because I like school very much. I enjoy most of the subjects, but English classes are probably my favourite. We learn English in many different ways which pleases me and all of my classmates.

“When I’m not at school I like to play volleyball, or do other sports together with my friends. I don’t often watch TV, but sometimes I enjoy watching entertainment shows such as The Voice of China with my parents. I like pop music. I also like to travel. As well as visiting places in China, I have been to the United States, Singapore, New Zealand, Greece, Turkey, Finland, Denmark and Britain.

“My dad is my hero. He is an intelligent, self-disciplined and persevering man who gives me so much guidance in life. He is also humorous and brings a positive attitude to everyone in our family. I want to be just like him. I hope I can go to a university I really love, study well and enjoy my university days. I want to find my academic passion and develop the ability to learn independently so I can live alone.”

What’s your dream? “To be a successful career woman with a great family”. 

Maureen, 13, lives in Malawi

“My mother left me with my aunt soon after I was born”

After experiencing neglect as a child, Maureen was taken to Chiuta Children’s Home with her two older sisters. She has lived there ever since, until recently when she joined a new school as a boarder.

“My mother left me with my aunt soon after I was born. My aunt had many children of her own, and didn’t look after me. She would drag me across the floor for hours.

“When I was six months old social workers visited and discovered I had terrible wounds on my back. They took me to hospital. Afterwards they brought me to an orphanage called Chiuta Children’s Home funded by the Children’s Fund Malawi. They were already caring for my two older sisters, Getrude and Elisa, who helped to take care of me and nurse me back to health.

“I’ve lived in Chiuta Children’s Home ever since and was going to Nsanjama Primary School, but a month ago I started as a boarder at Chisapi school in Blantyre. I share a bedroom with five other girls called Michelle, Tamara, Christina, Mandalo, and Nili. I like going to this school a lot. The teachers are very nice and so are the other students.

“My favourite subject in school is English, I like words very much. I have classes from 7.30am and after I have to do my homework before we all have dinner around 5pm. When I have free time I like to play football with my friends, I love football. Or we play jump rope. My heroes are my older sisters who took care of me when I was small, and my lovely teachers.“

My greatest dream for the future: “I saw nurses when I was in hospital, and I want to study hard so that one day I can be a nurse, too.”

To support Chiuta Children’s Home funded and the Children’s Fund Malawi visit childrensfundmalawi.com

Alex, 15, lives in New York State, USA

“I have anxiety and stress, and so do a lot of my friends”

Alex lives in Ballston Spa, a village in New York State. She has one brother and they live alternately with her mum and dad, who are divorced. Her favourite subject is history.

“My parents are divorced so I live some of the time with my dad and brother in one house, and the rest of the time with my mom and brother in another. The houses are 10 minutes apart by car, and I have my own space in each.

“I would say I sometimes like school. I think it’s stressful being a 15 year old girl living in America right now because you have to live up to all these expectations that are given to you. Everyone wants you to be perfect. School is what my friends and I worry about the most. I have anxiety and stress, and so do a lot of my friends. It’s the biggest challenge I face.

“I either get driven to school by my mom or dad or I take the bus. We can wear whatever we like, and classes start at 7:30am and ends at 2:30pm. My hero is Maya Angelou because she went through so many hard hips in her life and faced many obstacles but still made the best of what she lived for. I’d love to be a history teacher one day.

“When I’m not at school I like to spend time with my family and friends, hanging out at home or playing Uno. I have an iPhone and laptop, and I like Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat – but I don’t spend as much time on them as other people do.”

What is your biggest dream for the future? “I want to travel to Venice, Italy. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there. “

Maya, 8, lives in Kenya

“My hero is my mum”

Maya lives in a secure compound in Nairobi, Kenya. The compound is made up of many detached houses which all face a central garden area. There is 24 hour security at the gate which checks all cars and pedestrians that come and go.

“I live with my mum and two older brothers and have my own bedroom. Every day I go to school with my brothers. School starts at 7.30am and finished at 3.30pm but sometimes we stay on until 5pm. I have three favourite subjects at school, which are swimming, games and music. When I’m not at school I play with my friends, we like playing lots of games, hide and seek, marco polo, tag and rooms in the dark. Sometimes I watch TV. My hero is my mum.”

My greatest dream for the future: “To be a teacher and a dancer”

You can see more of Stylist’s Made By Girls content here.  

Emma, 15, lives in Ohio

My parents are divorced and do shared parenting, so my sisters and I go back and forth every two or three days. I have my own room which has lots of pictures of my friends and family all around it because they are so important to me. They’re best thing about my life, they care about me and support me every single day.

My friends mostly all play volleyball, we all love the sport so much and love playing together. When we aren’t playing volleyball, we just hang out together, or go to a movie or an amusement park, or just somewhere fun, because having fun is the best thing you can do.

Being 15-year-old girls we worry about things, but not as much as others may. We care about our school grades, volleyball games and worry about how we look, because looking presentable is important. But I know we have a pretty good life here and appreciate all that we have.

I have a phone, a tablet, a computer, a television, and often spend a lot of time online, but not to the point where it’s overbearing. The biggest challenge that I face is trying to keep up with everything. Sometimes sports and school get a little hectic and it’s hard to get everything done.

If I could live anywhere in the world, I would stay right where I am in the United States. We have a good government, great academic opportunities, amazing sports opportunities, and many other things. There are so many beautiful sights right outside our windows, just stepping outside and seeing them is what counts.

My greatest dream for the future: I want to be successful in whatever I end up doing and have a great life that I can work hard in and have fun with. 

Top image: CARE International Hiba Judeh, image of Maureen by Julia Gunther juliagunther.com