October 11 is the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, intended to “raise awareness of the situation of the girls around the world.”
 Rute & Jennifer Searls | Zambia 2012

With so many difficult issues confronting girls, it can be overwhelming to know where or how to begin to help. One of the ways our family has responded is by sponsoring children through World Vision. We sponsor a little girl from rural southern Zambia and because of my travels to Zambia with WaterAfrica, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Rute.

Rute in center with pencil & paper | Zambia 2010

I first met Rute in 2010 at her family’s home. This 8-year old girl, in a shiny bright green dress, was so delighted with the paper and pens I pulled from my bag that she took them and immediately began writing. Rute has tremendous potential for educational success. As a mother and a teacher and a very proud Sponsor, I resolved to continue providing encouragement and resources to help this dear girl grow into her potential.

It is well-documented that educating a girl multiplies to the benefit of an entire community. But my trip to Zambia with WaterAfrica last summer illuminated the challenges that inadequate WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) presents for educating girls. 

It’s easy to recognize that when women and children spend their time walking to remote locations to collect enough water for their daily use there is little time or energy left for education.
But I hadn’t realized that educating girls can be stopped by something so common and universal as menstruation! 
Presentation by WASH Club participants | Zambia 2012

Joyce Mweemba Sendoi oversees World Vision’s Sanitation and Hygiene programs in Zambia and we asked her about this problem. She explained that the cultural tradition in rural Zambia keeps activities and conversation surrounding a monthly period very private. Even to speak of it is embarrassing.  Without discreet supplies and private spaces to manage the details, girls stay away from school during their period. Some girls have the capacity to rise above this challenge and catch up/keep up, but for many girls – missing days of school on a regular basis causes them to fall behind. Eventually they give up and quit.

School Girls in WASH Club | Zambia 2012

World Vision implements a successful WASH program in Zambia.  We’ve talked a lot about how this changes lives – empowering villagers to pursue activities beyond collecting and coping with dirty water, but we haven’t talked much about the Sanitation and Hygiene impact on education.

World Vision’s Zambia WASH (ZWASH) program recognizes that establishing adequate latrines and hand-washing facilities at schools is crucial for creating a successful academic environment for all students. Additionally, providing bathing shelters creates important private spaces for girls to manage the details of feminine hygiene.
Not only does World Vision’s ZWASH program teach and support villagers as they construct latrines, tip-taps (hand-washing stations) and bathing shelters from locally sourced materials, but it also implements remarkable WASH education and training strategies in the schools. It is a comprehensive, life-changing program.
As we mark this first observation of the International Day of the Girl Child, would you join WaterAfrica in supporting World Vision’s WASH work in rural Zambia?  A period should mean the end of a sentence, not the end of an education.