Khadijah: a poet and #GIRLHERO against all odds

International Day of the Girl

Here at Girl Up we have a lot of girlheroes – and we think it’s time to put them in the spotlight.

Being a #GIRLHERO is not easy. It means standing up for what you believe in. It means going outside of your comfort zone so that girls and women around you can feel empowered. This week, to celebrate International Day of the Girl, we’ve decided to give a shout out to a different #GIRLHERO every day and it all starts with Khadijah, a girl from Malawi whose creativity, determination and dedication to education make her a true #GIRLHERO.

I had the opportunity to meet Khadijah last month when I visited the United Nations Joint Program for Adolescent Girls (JPAG) in Malawi. A partnership of UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO, the JPAG provides girls in Malawi – including Khadijah – access to education, vocational skills training, and protection from violence.

Khadijah, 17, can seem shy when you first meet her. Her voice is soft, often trailing off to a delicate whisper at the end of a sentence, and she is likely to cast her gaze downward when responding to a question.

But ask Khadijah to share her poetry and she will immediately light up. No longer shy, Khadijah will draw her shoulders back and look you directly in the eye as she speaks.

“Poems make me happy,” she told me recently when I visited her at her school in the Mangochi district of Malawi. “They give me confidence.”

“Poems make me happy…They give me confidence.” – Khadijah, 17

Khadijah dreams of one day becoming a famous poet or a journalist. She loves to practice her English, often reading books until the sun goes down.

“Would you like to hear another one?” she asked me eagerly, after she had already shared one of her original poems with me. “I have more!”

I responded that I would very much like to hear another poem. And this is what she said:

My World, My People

My world, my people
Give me love, give me hope
Give me happiness and not sadness
Give me radiance and not pregnance
My world, my people

My world, my people
Give me courage and not marriage
Give me English and not syphilis
Give me education and not suffocation
My world, my people

My JPAG (United Nations Joint Program for Adolescent Girls) is my mother
Give me more, teach me more
Keep the fire burning
My world, my people

Khadijah is in Form 4, meaning she is in her final year of secondary school. To understand how difficult it is for a girl like Khadijah to reach this level in her schooling, consider the facts: In Malawi, more than half of all girls are married by the age of 18, often requiring them to drop out of school and abandon their studies. According to UNESCO, only 28.7% of girls are enrolled in secondary school.

Many girls in Malawi face practical challenges in getting to school. Some students travel as far as 60km to get to the Mdinde Secondary School, Khadijah’s school. Khadijah herself hails from Ngalipa, a small village about 18 miles away from school – a distance she used to travel by foot.

But none of these challenges could stop Khadijah from going to school and pursuing her dream of becoming a famous poet or a journalist. She’s determined to “keep the fire burning” and inspire other girls in her school to work on their English and use poetry to express themselves.

Today, we honor Khadijah as our first #GIRLHERO of the week. Who’s yours? Take to social media and share the photos and stories of your friends, family and female role models who you consider to be a #GIRLHERO. That’s all it takes and it makes a huge difference.