Most Girls In Her Village Don’t Finish Elementary School. Maureen Graduated From College.

By: Women Deliver and Maureen Oduor

We have said it before, and will say it again – young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, but very much the leaders of today. We at Women Deliver believe in the power of young people to voice their specific needs to advance in the world, and through our Young Leaders Program give them the skills, tools, and opportunities to advocate for change within their communities and around the world. Maureen Oduor is a Women Deliver Young Leader who is doing that and more. As a Wells Mountain Foundation (WMF) Scholar, she recently received her bachelor’s degree from Kampala International University and chose to use her own celebration as a platform to bring local and international light to the issue of education accessibility and the need for girls’ access to schooling.

"Maureen exemplifies the qualities we look for when selecting our WMF Scholars. She is passionate, committed and understands the power of education,” stated Carol Wells, co-founder of Wells Mountain Foundation. “She is selfless and uses her education and determination to help others, particularly women and girls on the issue of reproductive health." 

Maureen traveled back to her village in Kenya to share her message and raise funds for girls’ education. This is her inspiring story.

My journey began when I was only 16. It was 2001 and I was in high school when I witnessed 20 girls get expelled for becoming pregnant. I remember carrying a bleeding girl in my arms for nearly 5 miles to catch a bus to the hospital. She died upon arrival. Her death was due to complications from an unsafe abortion. This was a turning point for me, and I have been advocating for the sexual and reproductive rights of girls ever since.

In my village – Udin, Kenya – 40 percent of girls are partially or totally orphaned. Most are born to parents without a high school education. Girls face the harshest living conditions with the highest pregnancy and school dropout rates. Many are married and have become mothers before the age of 18. Unfortunately, education for girls is not viewed as a priority and even those who have access to secondary education are trained and viewed as brides, which hinders their own quest for education.  

While we know that keeping girls in school beyond 7th grade makes them more likely to postpone marriage, have fewer and healthier children themselves and to send those kids to school, girls around the world are lacking positive role models to show them the way. Adolescent girls need mentors, examples to emulate, and the resources to build an effective social network. And that is precisely what I have set out to do.

In 2010, I was selected to join Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, an opportunity to attend conferences and networking opportunities, sharpen my skills as an advocate and social activist, and gain valuable tools to be an agent of change for my community.

As a part of the global Women Deliver 2010 conference, Women Deliver selected 100 Young Leaders from a pool of 6,000 scholarship applicants and representing 59 different countries, with every region across the globe represented. Maureen Odour was chosen based on her knowledge, skills, and experience as an advocate and activist, and her passion to increase advocacy efforts her community.

During my time as a Young Leader, it has been my privilege to travel to global events representing young women around the world. I have had the opportunity to change policies that block pregnant girls from attending school in Tanzania, and connect with hard-to-reach girls about reproductive goods and services using mobile technology in stigmatized areas where family planning remains taboo. I have helped to increase access to reusable sanitary towels as a viable way for girls to stay in school longer and bridge the gender gap in education. My work, however, is far from over.

We are facing a key time for girls and women in the world, as the United Nations works to finalize the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. To accelerate progress toward a more sustainable world, we must pay special attention to adolescent girls, as they are among the most vulnerable and hardest to reach population. Their rights and needs must be meaningfully included and reflected throughout the process of creating the next Sustainable Development Goals so that girls and women realize their full potential.

It is with that significance that I chose to my recent graduation as an opportunity to share my journey from village girl to international women’s advocate. By opening my own celebration to others, I hope that stakeholders and others in the community will contribute to the education of a village girl. I have seen firsthand the strength that remains untapped not just in Udin, but all over the world. Girls and women are ready to be the leaders of change. As it is said, “Nothing about us without us.”

I ask all who read this to join me in my dream. A dream of a world where young women have access to affordable and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services. A world where family planning services penetrate the hardest-to-reach markets effectively and consistently. A world full of proper and meaningful investment to bridge gender inequalities, especially for girls and women. I shall stand and demand, shout again and again until my voice and the voices of all girls are heard and action is taken. I hope you join me.

Currently, Maureen is working with The African Peace Ambassadors Tanzania (APAT) as the Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health Coordinator. In her position, she promotes access to sexual and reproductive health services, especially family planning, as a viable means to keep girls in school.

To learn more about Women Deliver’s Young Leaders Program, click here.
To learn more about Wells Mountain Foundation, click here.

Entry Comments

  1. As a fellow Women Deliver Young Leader, I have met Maureen over and over. I just can’t resist her passion to make progress for adolescent girls. We share that common vision. I’m proud of you MOOO!

    • Jan 06
    • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    I have read Maureen’s contributions and one of them is participating in changing policies in Tanzania regarding pregnant school girls. I just want to share that this policy/guideline is not there in practice. Girls are still being expelled from school even when the president last year declared to return every child to school who is supposed to be and isn’t. Still, heads of schools are saying they need it writing, otherwise, they cannot return pregnant girls back to school. It is sad. I am working to support girls to go to school and it is sad they lose their right because of pregnancy.

    • Jan 10
    • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    Thanks dear friends for kind words.

    Theresia Moyo, its a sad scenario to watch the magnitude of girls left out of the education system everyday in Tanzania. I have shared this with key leaders, especially the Minister of Education and assistant minister who is a women. What we need to do is to empower girls themselves to realize that they have the right to education. We need to share with leaders the loss that this country incurs every year just because of the amount of girls that remain dependent economically rather than a human resource to the country. I strongly believe that it can work - we must talk about it again and again until we have the written document.

    I encourage fellow young leaders in Tanzania to take this as a challenge to we work together to deliver for Tanzanian girls! She needs our voices!

  2. Maureen, Numfor, and Theresia keep up the wonderful work you are doing for the young women of the world. They need champions such as yourselves. God bless.

Speak Up!
  Remember me next time.
Notify me of follow-up comments.