Thursday, October 01, 2009

Cheers to Lumja! and The Girl Effect: Holding up Half the Sky

This morning I woke to a text message from my friend and former "tutoree" Lumja: "I just wanted to tell you that I passed the exam now I am a student at the University of Pristina branch of the English language and literature."


I could not be more excited for this beautiful, intelligent, funny and fiery girl. I met Lumja in Mitrovica, Kosovo when she was 17, in a group of young activists writing stories for a local paper (Youth Voice) for their city. She stood out with her willingness to practice her English with me, her excited gestures and her strong opinions. When I asked her name, she told me Lumturije, took one look at my confused face and twisted tongue and told me to call her Lumja.

Along with another high school student, Safet, we met once a week for English tutoring and practice, but mostly because I just loved their company.

(Safet and Lumja, 2006)

I wrote this (in 2006) about girl power in Kosovo:

At my weekly meeting with Lumja and Safet, both 17 years old and juniors in high school, I asked about homework. "We have to write papers, do math work at home," Lumja said in her usual energetic manner, scanning the air around her for the perfect word in English, her busy hands illustrating her points. "But we go to bed early, since there is no power."

The family eats breakfast and lunch, but no dinner. Lumja and Safet return to their home villages around 6pm, when it has been dark for an hour or so in the winter. They go to bed early, but Lumja wakes up in the middle of the night, when the power comes on at 1am, to study for a few hours with light.

In the morning, she does not have time to study, since she wakes at 4 or 5 a.m. to help her mother with breakfast and housework. One morning her father asked Lumja, “Why does your face look like that?” “This is the only face I have!” she teased. He pressed further, "Why are your eyes red and tired?" She had to admit to stealing power hours in the middle of the night for studying.

If she tries to study at school, in the break they have that is similar to our study hall, she is teased by her friends who won’t let her concentrate. Her sister, who is woken every night she leaves the room, calls her crazy.

Safet says he studies at night with a candle, or in the morning, since he does not have as much work to do as girls do. Since he opened that door, I stuck my western-thinking head through it. I explained that I know it is traditional for the women to do the housework, but do men do equal work, chopping wood and such? Lumja chimed in here – her brother mostly sits around watching television or playing video games. Safet admitted that girls have more to do here. Prefacing my comment to be as culturally sensitive as I could, I said, “I know I’m American, so my thinking is different, but – that’s just wrong!”

Lumja said even though she’s a girl, both her parents want her to go to University. It’s just a matter of money. Her father works to support his seven children, all but the youngest in school, and earns only 150 Euros a month as a guard at the Trepça mine.

I'm in the middle of furiously underlining the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It's a great book, informative, heart-wrenching and inspiring. The introduction describes the education of women as the number one means to fighting poverty. (Bolding mine)

Looking at a successful model in East Asia's, "the basic formula was to ease repression, educate girls as well as boys, give the girls freedom to move to the cities and take factory jobs, and then benefit from a demographic dividend as they delayed marriage and reduced childbearing. The women meanwhile financed the education of younger relatives, and saved enough of their pay to boost national savings rates. This pattern is called 'the girl effect.'

... "In the early 1990s, the United Nations and the World Bank began to appreciate the potential resource that women and girls represent. 'Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.' ... UNICEF issued a major report arguing that gender equality yields a 'double dividend' by elevating not only women but also their children and communities. The United Nations Development Programme summed up the mounting research this way: "Women's empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation."

Oh, and there's evidence that empowering women and girls would disempower terrorists.

I cannot cheer enough for this one girl I know going on to more education and pursuing her dreams. Here's to Lumja and her beautiful family!

(Lumja's lovely family - minus Lumja who took the photo)

(Little sister, rich Turkish coffee and ever-present Fanta)

(Lumja on left - the first day I met her at Youth Voice)

(Safet, me and Lumja, Mitrovica 2006)


Anonymous said...

This is such a heart warming story. I'm so glad you were able to be a part of her life, and I wish her the best with her studies.

Rebecca Snavely said...

Thanks for the good thoughts Des!