This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Aaliyah Debose of PACE Center for Girls. Aaliyah is going to be a senior in high school this year and recently read Start Something That Matters, by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie. Below, she shares her inspiration to start something that matters to her.
As I sat on the stack of straws my eyes began to sting from the warm salty water that was forming in my eyes. I prayed, I hoped, and I wished this curse would leave me—so much for wishful thinking. School was back in and I had to sit and allow all the giggles and all the laughter to fill my ears. My mother said I should be happy, because now I’m a woman. I told her I didn’t want to be a woman, but obviously the choice wasn’t my own. I would often cry to my mother begging her to help stop the pain, to stop the bleeding, to stop shame and embarrassment and to just allow me to go to school! I spilled my dreams all over the table while she sat; I sang my aspirations in front of my village plenty of times telling about the tough lawyer or the strong doctor I dream of being. My dreaming has come to a screeching halt, because now that I’m a “woman” I am forced to sit on a stack of straw and prepare my ten year old self for marriage. If I was a girl in Africa, this would be my life.
One in 10 schoolgirls in Africa misses classes or drops out completely due to her period; she often substitutes pads or tampons for less safe and less absorbent materials such as rags, newspaper, or bark. Lack of affordable sanitary products and facilities for girls and women keeps them from education when they are young and prevents their mobility and productivity as women. Raising awareness and education to eliminate the stigma of menstruation is a larger part of the battle.
My typical school day starts at 7:45 am (if I’m not running late of course), whether my period is on or, not school remains a priority. It’s nothing I worry about; I simply put on a pad or tampon and carry a few on me. Never worrying about being embarrassed or having to stress because I can’t attend school due to my period being on; I’m not saying I never had to worry about maintaining my period, I have had my share of hard times. Times when toilet paper and napkins had to play the role of a pad until my mother received her paycheck. But I can honestly say that wasn’t anything compared to sitting on straw, using bark, newspaper, and missing school.
I attend PACE Center for Girls and in my eyes the girls and I here are truly privileged. My school provides us with pads and tampons and if we ask we’re able to take some home with us. So how could I apply this same aspect to help the girls in Africa?—I began to ponder.
Blake Myscoskie gave me an idea—an inspiration, as I read his book: “Start Something that Matters”. I knew for a while now that I wanted to make a difference, but I could never really put my finger on what the difference would be or even how I would do it. In Blake’s book, he writes three simple, but complex questions that help find your passion. “If you did not have to worry about money, what would you do with your time, what kind of work would you want to do, and what cause would you serve?” I found myself lost in thought for a while, as I thought deeply about these small questions. And at that moment my passion slowly became evident.
“If I did not have to worry about money, my time would be spent saving, helping, changing, and inspiring others.” My inspiration was so great that I began to write furiously in my journal. “The kind of work I would want to do is feed the hungry, heal the sick, and educate the non-educated, preferably women and little girls. My cause would be keeping girls in Africa in school and providing women with jobs so they can have money to feed their families.
My vision is enormous, I plan on educating women on their periods, aiding them, and providing them with the necessities to maintain their periods and to STAY IN SCHOOL. It’s time to take action! My name is Aaliyah Debose I’m 17-years-old – and I am a future leading lady.