2

“Meet, for example, Regina Gisput. At 16, she is as ambitious as any Minnesota girl her age, studying a heavy load of physics, chemistry and math in hopes of becoming a doctor.

Few American girls, though, have faced obstacles as formidable as she is fighting. When Regina was 13 years old, her father expected her to marry as was the custom in her rural Maasai village. Her family needed the bride-price a groom would pay either in cash or in livestock.

Regina knew all too well her future in that married life. She had seen that future through the lives of girls and women in her village: She would work at hard labor for her husband, likely an older man with other wives. She would bear children before her own child body was fully formed and ready to deliver them. She would own very little; and if her husband died before her, his land, cattle and other possessions would pass to his family.

Regina made a bold escape from that destiny.

At her primary school, she had taken a qualification exam for secondary school. She passed. And the head of the primary school told her on the last school day that she could leave immediately for the MaaSAE school in Monduli without going home.

Regina took the offer. And she arrived at the boarding school, like many of her fellow students, with nothing but the clothes she had worn that day.

It was effectively a one-way decision for Regina. She can’t go back to her village.

Keep reading Pulitzer Center grantee Sharon Schmickle’s report about girls’ fight for education in Tanzania here. Images by Sharon Schmickle. Tanzania, 2013.

Nepal: Olga's Girls

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There is a saying about daughters in Nepal: Raising a girl is like watering your neighbor’s garden.

Nepali girls are less likely than their brothers to get an education or earn an income, and in some families are considered temporary mouths to feed, as they will move in with their husband’s family at marriage.

In the country’s poorest rural villages of southwestern Nepal, there is a specific kind of discarded daughter found only among the ethnic Tharu farming families:

The kamlari.

Kamlaris are house slaves, as young as five, who toil away their childhoods cooking, cleaning and babysitting in the homes of higher caste families.

Tharu fathers sell their daughters to work as kamlaris for the equivalent of $50 a year. It’s a fortune for the Tharu, sharecroppers who live on less than $1 a day. In exchange, “employers” make promises to feed, clothe and educate the girl. Trusting, illiterate, and desperate, Tharu parents rationalize the sale by saying their daughter won’t have to beg for food in the village, and her price tag will feed the rest of the family.

But bonded girls report being beaten, raped, starved, and forced to sleep on the floor. Their masters often break the work contracts, paying less or not at all. Few kamlaris go to school. In the worst cases, the girls disappear.

Read more about “Olga’s Girls” and indentured servitude in Nepal on Human Rights Day 2013. 

5

Beginning in the 9th century, the Khmer Empire ruled the bulk of Southeast Asia. The great Hindu temple Angkor Wat and its surrounding cities, in what is modern-day Cambodia, were the economic and religious center of a bustling empire.

During the 15th century the empire and the temples fell into ruin and the nation later found itself a battleground between Thailand and Vietnam.

Set on returning Cambodia to an entirely self-dependent state, Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge (the Communist party in Cambodia) took over the kingdom on January 1, 1975. His regime desecrated many of the nation’s holy sites and oversaw the deaths of between one and three million people. The effects of Pol Pot’s regime can still be felt in Cambodia today; it has set the nation’s development back several decades.

Many of Cambodia’s rural poor live in much the same manner as their ancestors of the Angkor Period. With these families often making less than $1,000 per year, young women and girls are often at risk of being trafficked to other cities or surrounding countries.

NGOs from around the world are stepping in to aid in economic development and the promotion of social justice. By providing micro-loans, job training, education and counseling, they give hope to those who have been victims—and for those most a brighter hope for the future.

Keep reading here. Image and story by student fellow Melisa Goss. 

Watch on pulitzercenter.tumblr.com

Around the world, child marriage keeps millions of young girls out of school every year.

“Denying a girl her right to education also denies her the opportunity to make choices in work and life…Girls with secondary education can find fulfilling work, be married to someone of their choice, have the number of children they want, and make sure their children are educated in their turn. The right to education opens the way to the exercise of other human rights,” explains the website Too Young to Wed, part of a multimedia project spearheaded by Pulitzer Center grantee Stephanie Sinclair.

The Day of the Girl is on October 11 and this year, the theme is education. Join us and PBS NewsHour in celebrating by sharing what girls’ education looks like where you live. Use #girlsglobaled on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook to share a photo, video or story about what you experience.

8

I never wanted my last story from Afghanistan to be my own — the one where the journalist is kidnapped, held in an underground hole for 28 days while the Afghan government negotiates her freedom, and then returned to her country’s embassy under the cover of darkness one cold November night. But that’s the story people remember from me, the one they still want to hear. I knew I had to go back and give the story a different ending, one where the reporter returns with a story that needs to be told, a story not her own.

Last May, five years after my kidnapping, I went back to Kabul and spent a week with a Canadian NGO to document the progress of their projects in the country at a crucial time, before NATO pulls out in 2014. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan supports education initiatives in the country, particularly those aimed at women and children.

I knew reaction would be mixed. There is an audience out there that believes journalists who voluntarily enter what’s considered a hostile environment bring on their own misfortune, should something happen while on assignment. It’s usually the same audience who believes there is nothing to be gained from our involvement — militarily or otherwise — in fragile, developing states anywhere in the world.

Those are the people who posted on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s website, “Not a good idea…there is nothing to report there the whole world knows it is the biggest hole there is…” and “Not a good idea, Mellissa. It’s sort of like walking into a minefield.”

Then there are those Canadians who believe Canada still has a role to play on the world stage, and that we should not forget the sacrifices our armed forces made to bring stability to Afghanistan. Some of them reached out to me directly on Twitter, and to them, I feel a debt of gratitude. One of those people was MJ Aherne from Edmonton, Alberta, who wrote, “@fungm story on unfinished business of #Afghanistan nation-building deeply appreciated.” And there was Anthony Champion from Mississauga, Ontario, who tweeted, “Great story! Children give us hope and it’s wonderful to see them getting an education!”

And then there is a small circle of Afghan veterans, soldiers and diplomats, many of whom I got to know when I returned from captivity. I had the honor of telling their stories: their struggles with PTSD, traumatic brain injury and amputation. They seemed relieved that the work of nation-building they had started in Afghanistan was continuing, despite the dangers and the difficulties. The story was “honest, yet inspirational,” one of them wrote.

The NGO with which I traveled was just grateful that we were able to get Afghanistan back in the news, if only for this one story. They are very concerned about what will happen after this year. The recent suicide bombing of La Taverna underscores that concern. The January attack killed 20 people — most of whom were foreigners — in a restaurant that was popular with expats, and shook the city’s international community to its core. The security situation is “the worst I’ve seen it since I first came here,” Lauryn Oates, the NGO’s project director, wrote me from Kabul. It will affect the way aid agencies travel and work. And it could mean that Canadians will care even less about the country’s future.

Going back to Afghanistan wasn’t about me going back to a place where something bad had happened to me. It was about turning the spotlight back on Afghans, checking in on their progress as their country lurches toward independence again from foreign intervention. It was about getting Canadians to talk about Afghanistan again, and hopefully, asking how they can help.

Read more about Pulitzer Center grantee Mellissa Fung’s journey

Join us in celebrating Day of the Girl by sharing what girls’ education looks like where you live. Use #girlsglobaled on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook to share a photo, video or story about what you’ve experienced. Learn more at http://bit.ly/girlsglobaled

Photo by Seamus Murphy. Afghanistan, 2012. See more of his photos from his and Eliza Griswold’s reporting project on girls who risk their lives to write poetry in Afghanistan here.

As a housemother at World Hope International’s assessment center in Phnom Penh, Chamnam Seng loves her job. “I’m happy to see the girls be playful, laugh loudly, be active, spend time together. I feel a part of their lives and like I can help them,” she said.

However, as she continues to talk about her love for her job, she gets quieter. Meeker.

“They’ve had a bad experience, so I want to take care of them.” She paused before continuing, “because I’ve had a bad experience too.”

Tears well up in her eyes and there is another pause. She’s hesitant to talk about it. “It isn’t safe,” she said.

World Hope’s assessment center is the only one of its kind in Cambodia. Young women and girls who have been trafficked or raped are brought to the center for evaluation and counseling. The girls stay at the center for one to two months, until they are either re-integrated into their home or placed in a group home.

With the girls needing round the clock monitoring and care, World Hope’s staff is the backbone of the organization. They must be on guard at all times, ready to deal with the turmoil of those who have been abused and traumatized.

“Sometimes they have trauma, so severe, we don’t know how to respond to the situation,” housemother Srey Lim said. But the staff members often rely on their own experiences. “I understand about emotional feelings,” Seng said. “What the trauma is, why are they suffering… why they aren’t happy and have behaviors. I feel like I want to help them more.”

Seng’s story is not unusual. Many who work with World Hope and other NGOs have their own past traumatic experiences that help them understand and comfort the girls in their care. From being raped in refugee camps, to abusive and alcoholic parents, to having loved ones killed by the Khmer Rouge, the staff members have not had an easy road.

They are not the sort to leave work behind after punching the time clock. “I take what I learn here and teach others like family members, friends and neighbors,” Seng said.

It always seems that there is at least one girl’s story that sticks with staff members at night. Heng Buth, a counselor at World Hope, recounts one story of an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her neighbor. Every night, she would wake up sobbing violently. “She was so deeply expressive,” Buth said. “Every night when the darkness comes, she always remembers what happened that night and that she was totally alone and no one helped her.”

When the girl first came to the center, even when simply asked her name, she would try to cover herself up, turn away, and ignore the staff and other girls. When the girls would draw pictures, she would use only black. She never wanted to talk about what her picture meant. Occasionally, she would resort to violent outbursts.

Then slowly, after daily counseling, and much comforting from the housemothers, she began to play with other girls; she began interacting in class, began smiling.

The girl has since returned home, is happy and doing well. That’s what counselor Channery Kao says is what she likes best about her job. “I can see lives changed and compare how their lives have changed in one or two months.”

Occasionally, the staff will see one of the girls in the community or get a letter of thanks. “That’s my favorite part,” Heng says. “The words ‘thank you.’”

The names of the women in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.

— Story and image by Pulitzer Center student fellow Melissa Goss. Learn more about her reporting project on Cambodia’s sex trade here.

Girls play together on the grounds of the national headquarters of the Celestial Church of Christ in the Makoko neighborhood of Lagos, Nigeria, September 1, 2013. Photo by Pulitzer Center grantee Allison Shelley. Today’s theme: #peoplematching

Allison is guest hosting the Everyday Africa account this week from her recent work in Nigeria and Senegal, where she has been reporting on reproductive health issues.

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