By Lydia Limbe

I have always known that to educate a girl child is important. This importance was further widened and deepened when I watched the documentary, ‘He named me Malala.’

On a recent site visit to Mombasa, I sat in the midst of Mazeras Girls High School students as they watched the documentary. Like them, I was consumed by the story. Here was a Pakistani teenage girl who loved to educate herself, and because of this, she questioned why the society did not educate girls.

Being a predominantly conservative Muslim society, girls education was not taken seriously.  Malala had a thirst for knowledge, and her father being a teacher, taught her alongside other students.

Because she wanted to speak up about the injustice permeated by the Taliban in Pakistan, she volunteered to write a journal for the BBC, the contents of which found it’s way into the BBC blog and got the attention of the world.

The Taliban were not happy. They attacked Malala’s bus, shot at them – Malala having taken a bullet in her head. She was left for the dead. As fate would have it, she had to be flown to the United Kingdom for specialized treatment. She had been shot on the left side of her face, and faced possible paralysis in the event the doctors did not act quickly.

Her story has become the symbol of the importance of eduction for the global girls child. A total of 66 million girls in the world are uneducated, and the main driving force is the societal and religious bias that girls do not need to be educated.

At Akili Dada, we have a direct impact to approximately 150 students since we started 10 years ago (those whom we’ve paid school fees for), 45 fellows whom as of the 2015 tally, the 2015 cohort had directly impacted about 10,000 people of all ages and sexes.

These numbers, and the intensity of the impact sank home for me during the site visit in Mombasa. Like in the case of Esther Mbua, an aspiring Member of the County Assembly Kasemeni Ward in Kilifi County.

Having been directly involved with the County Government of Kwale as a social worker, she has on-the-ground, first-hand understanding of the whys and wherefores of the county.

Lots of questions popped up for her as far as what better leadership would mean for the women (young and old) as well as the youth, and as was evidenced during the Dada Dialogue that she put together. The women in the same area echoed her concerns and were restless for sustainable solutions.

The following day we went to visit Leonida Nanjala in Tudor (pronounced chudaa), who is among the 2016 Akili Dada Fellows. She uses different forms of art as therapy for orphaned and vulnerable children.

At first it was hard to conceptualize how that works, but when we got to the social hall, the energy in the room was electric. It had a lot of positive energy in it, and I could feel the love that Leonida has for the children. Even the joy with which the choreographer was teaching and dancing with the children could be felt.

Not once were the children moved by our presence. They danced because they loved it, and on further hindsight, they danced because it was good for their souls. Not that their young minds realize it, but as Leonida shared with us, for the two years that she has been engaged in her art therapeutic project, the children have been able to transform their outlook on life, from the ‘not possible’ to ‘what’s possible.’

They are no longer afraid, and are confident of their future prospects their background not withstanding.  They no longer fight with each other, Leonida said. Instead, they now care for one another. They are their brother’s keeper.

This concept of being there for each other was widened and deepened further when we visited Halima Mohammed in Likoni who works with recovering narcotics. That term alone – narcotics – is language in itself, bringing forth mental images of how things are or might be.

But when we arrived, we found a group of optimistic people, probably the most optimistic ones I’ve ever met. They are aware of their weaknesses, are putting into action accountability structures to ensure that they do not succumb to their weaknesses and despite all odds stack against them, want a good future for themselves.

As I sat there listening to their stories on how they got hooked to drugs and what motivated them to be clean, I was in admiration of their compassion for themselves. That, and the courage to live, to hope, and to put in the hard work to stay focused.

At LICODEP, everyone is concerned about everyone, and ‘arrest’ a potential relapse as soon as it happens if not before.

Halima’s projects is to start a car wash for them so that they are occupied during that critical period of recovery, where their gauge is always threatening to go back to active addiction.

Malala says in the documentary that education is not just to pass exams or to sustain your mainstay. It is for life. During this site visit, this rang true in the four locations we visited.

It also expresses the nature of the African Women Leaders that Akili Dada seeks to nature. Because leadership means putting yourself in the drivers seat, to pursue and achieve a goal that is beneficial to all parties concerned.