Under the shade of three mango trees, the community of Somba sang and danced to the news of the opportunity to construct a Building Tomorrow Primary School. The stories flowed, as they so often do, of the current makeshift school’s days cut short by rains, students dodging ripened fruit in the middle of a math lesson and class sizes twice those of the national average. For this community—a full five-hour drive from Kampala toward the border Uganda shares with Kenya—the air full of wind-blown dust and jubilation was suddenly met with a palpable sense of urgency.
“George, you need to know this,” said James, our Community Development Officer who will soon start living in Somba until the construction of Building Tomorrow’s 41st school is complete.
“In this community, next week, we shall have a 26-year-old-grandmother. Twenty-Six.”
Surrounded by the excitement and noise of Somba’s 300+ children who had gathered for this joyous occasion, I asked if I had heard James correctly.
He looked me square in the eyes, his voice shaken by the gravity of what he had just said.
“Yes. Twenty-six. A grandmother. And it is because there is no school in this place.”
My world stopped.
The welcoming songs, the prayers of gratitude, the dancing under the tree, all of it now recalled a disturbing hollowness. Not because the raw emotion behind it all was insincere—quite the contrary. But it hit me in that moment, this occasion came late. We are late.
We are late to Somba. We are late to Somba and the thousands of communities that dot sub-Saharan Africa and face realities that are no longer crises only of health, or education, or women’s empowerment or even human rights. We are late to the realization that an investment in education is also an investment in health, human dignity and our collective future. We are late in making an investment we absolutely must be willing to make.
Twenty-six year-old grandmothers are a byproduct of a world where two-thirds of the illiterate people in the world are women. They are the reality of a world where 39,000 girls are married against their will each and every day and one in every seven girls has birthed a child by the time they turn 17. Twenty-six year-old grandmothers remind us that despite the progress that has been made through the years, we have so much further to go.
We are so terribly late and yet all is not lost.
In a matter of months, the boys and girls of Somba will have a formal primary school that will be a first for this community, safely constructed hand-in-hand by moms and dads who themselves are tired of the status-quo. These parents embrace the potential that their children’s generation will be the first to have access to a primary education. On that day they even dared to dream that this would only be the beginning. We owe it to Somba and the women of our world to make sure dreams such as this do come true.
The Huffington Post has also shared this check-in online. You can view and share it here!
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