What if upon turning 13 or 14, your parents demanded that you drop out of school in order to get married, knowing that if you defied them you would no longer be welcome in their home, leaving you homeless?
This was the reality that Mandela Washington fellow Mariama Barry of Gambia faced as a teenager.
When presented with the choice, she knew her dream of an education was too important for her to give up on. Ms. Barry bravely left her parents’ house to live with an aunt in order to stay in school.
“I fought hard to be a successful lady,” she said.
Unfortunately, Ms. Barry’s story isn’t unique. Many girls in Africa are forced into marriage and told to abandon their education at an early age.
According to the BSU Mandela Washington fellows, there are other reasons as to why some African young people – boys and girls – struggle to earn a quality education. Teacher shortages, overpopulated schools, untrained teachers, outdated equipment, limited or no internet access, sexual harassment, poverty and an inability to travel, are just some examples of what African students face.
“You’ve got many things that affect your ability to become educated, competitive and successful,” said Harry K. Thomas, former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, who was on campus this week to lead a discussion on the topic with the visiting fellows.
During the presentation, the Mandela fellows shared with the ambassador the many difficulties they face in their quest for an education. From being propositioned for “favors” in return for a good grade, to a lack of technology and transportation, there are many hardships blocking the path to an education in Africa.
Ambassador Thomas questioned how the fellows individually overcame the odds.
“How are you here today?” he asked.
“Self-motivation,” many of them replied.
If solutions to these issues can be found, Ambassador Thomas hopes Africans will one day not have to travel and study abroad for a quality higher education. Unfortunately, he said, that hard-earned degree can sometimes mean nothing when students return to Africa.
“If you get a degree from Harvard in engineering, it might be hard to find a job back home. The goal is to have your generation stay home and do well,” Ambassador Thomas said. “It’s not easy to find success in Africa. It is hard to obtain success.”
Ambassador Thomas praised the fellows for working so hard.
“It’s tough being an individual, to have to fight all the time, to get an education,” he said. (Photos by Heather Harris Michonski, University News)