Yesterday was our first day of our service learning placement, and it was a really amazing opportunity to learn about what Vision of Hope is doing to help girls stay in school and off of the streets. The founder, Chitalu, was in an abusive relationship of her own, and hearing her story made me realize how close to home this cause is for her. When Chitalu was married, her husband had a variety of extramarital affairs. He wouldn't come home for days at a time, without explanation of apology. One of his relationships became serious, and his girlfriend decided to keep the baby. Stretched for resources, Chitalu's husband decided to stop supporting his own family. Chitalu had just had a second child of her own, despite her husband's request for her to abort the fetus. Out of work due to her pregnancy, Chitalu felt powerless when her husband decided to stop paying the school fees of her oldest child so he could support his girlfriend. One day Chitalu's husband brought home a baby, and told her that because it was biologically his, she was responsible for taking care of it. When she asked where the mother was, he told her she was in college. Chitalu realized that her husband was supporting getting his girlfriend through college, but didn't even care about his children enough to pay their school fees. Knowing she had no money and nowhere to go, she made the decision to leave and try to carve out a future for herself and her two children.
Chitalu founded Vision of Hope to give girls a future they wouldn't otherwise have. Hearing their stories is heartbreaking, in part because they are so common. Many of their parents don't have the resources to support them, and sent them away to live with other family members in the hopes they would. Most of the girls we met were abused by these family members, and forced to run away. One girl accidentally dropped a pot of boiling water on her cousin, and was accused of being a witch before being asked to leave with jus the clothes on her back. She was only ten-years-old. Another girl was sent to live with an aunt, where she was abused before running away. All she wants is to be reunited with her family, but they live in such a remote, rural area nobody can find her village. Because none of her siblings went to school, there is no way to trace a record of her family. She has attempted to commit suicide, and just wants to be wih her parents. I can't imagine going through that, let alone at such a young age. All of the girls we have met have shown incredible resilience, and their bravery in sharing their stories is incredible. I only hope Vision of Hope maintains funding, as housing and providing school fees is incredibly costly. Not every girl is a success story. Many of them stay on the streets where they can sniff a local drug made out of airplane fuel byproduct, and only come to Vision of Hope when they are sick enough to warrant medical care or hungry. Still, the majority of the girls we spoke to were happy to be there, and spoke of dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and judges. Jobs are scarce in Zambia, and the sad reality is that few of them will have the opportunity to reach their potential. However, hearing stories of girls that never got to go to school and are now at the top of their class, or have even skipped a grade, are really inspiring. Chitalu has done some wonderful things, and I know she will fight to make Vision of Hope a success.