On Thursday October 11th people around the world will be celebrating the first ever United Nations International Day of the Girl. This is the story of why I am so excited to be involved in the ‘Because I’m a girl’ campaign.

Many years ago I decided I wanted to sponsor a girl from a developing country so that she would be able to have an education and have access to fundamental health care. I did this through the charity Plan UK. Dhapu lives in India in a remote village north of Delhi. I have never been able to visit her, as even though I have been to India a couple of times, she lives so far from any tourist route that I really couldn’t afford the expense.

More recently I started working for the tour operator, The Gambia Experience. I had never been to Africa so I was very excited that this would give me the opportunity to travel to West Africa very cheaply. I started sponsoring a second girl, Lisa, through a charity working specifically in that area. She lives in Brikama, a bustling, dusty town not far from the main Gambian tourist area and over the years I have visited her and her family many times. Lisa is now 12 years old and doing well in school. One thing I find very frustrating though is that her mother doesn’t speak English, even though it is The Gambia’s official language and all commerce and legal matters are carried out in English. She never went to school. All my feeble attempts at learning their language, Mandinka, have failed dismally.

Lisa, her parents, one of her brothers and me in their house in Brikama

I have been very lucky. I received a good education and even though I had terrible trouble reading and writing I was still able to complete my secondary education, go on to do ‘A’ levels and then to Bristol University to study Zoology and Psychology. Yet I will always remember a spelling test when I was ten years old and bursting into tears when I realised the only word I thought I had spelt correctly was wrong. My mark for the test was a big fat zero! My parents were told that I was not clever enough to do ‘O’ levels. Do you think that if I had lived in a developing country where parents struggle to feed their children, let alone send them all to school, that I would have been allowed to continue my education and gone on to get an honours degree from one of England’s top universities? I think probably not.

It was quite a while after university (and after I had returned to college as a mature student) that I started working in the travel industry; firstly in graphic design, then photography and more recently writing. Who would have thought that the little girl who could barely read and write, would one day love writing so much and find so many new doors of opportunity opening for her.

Yet many girls around the world are still denied an education because of poverty, conflict and discrimination. Girls are often taken out of school at a young age and sent to work or are married off to strangers. The charity Plan firmly believe as do I that an educated girl is…

  • less likely to marry and to have children whilst she is still a child
  • more likely to be literate, healthy and survive into adulthood, as are her children
  • more likely to reinvest her income back into her family, community and country

The girl I sponsor in India is now a young woman of 16. She has not as yet got married and I am delighted that she is still receiving an education.

In The Gambia I have seen first hand how campaigning by charities has made a difference and now just as many girls as boys are attending school there.

Following the extensive ‘Because I’m a Girl’ campaign by Plan (the charity through which I sponsor Dhapu) the United Nations has declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl. I was delighted and honoured to receive an invitation from Plan UK to attend a celebration of this day in London at the WOW Girls Festival. I hope that you too will make October 11th a day of celebration!

Follow Plan UK on Facebook – Plan UK and on twitter @PlanUK.

You can read about my experience of the first ever International Day of the Girl here.

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