I wanted to take some time and share a personal story.
A long time ago, my parents divorced. My mom had nothing — no money, no education, and no hope of getting these things where we lived. She was forced to work really, really hard, and depend on people where she fell short. My mom believed that the only way to get out of a tough situation is through an education. She didn’t have an education, but she could make things. She weaved, sewed and created things to sell, hoping against hope that she could save enough money to buy me a plane ticket to America. I still remember these little dolls she made and sold for a dollar or two. She did this for years. My mom did everything in her power to make sure I got the education she didn’t get, and she believed that by doing this, she was setting me up for a better life. She wasn’t wrong, but the road to America and assimilation was filled with curves and bumps, potholes and the occasional fork.
What I’m saying is, life in America wasn’t easy for a teenage African girl who didn’t speak a word of English. I was so different from African Americans who were born in America. I was teased relentlessly. Things that were a normal part of my life suddenly became… wrong here. It’s not really right or wrong, but different. And as a teenager, being different is not celebrated in high schools. I wanted so badly to fit in. I remember just going home one day and crying, an ugly cry, full of suffering for what I felt like I had lost in coming here. I actually fell to the floor in despair, sobbing for the loss of my culture. Don’t just assume that I hate my life and America, because that’s not the case at all. I love America and the opportunity I continue to have here.
This is all leading up to why I want to build a school for girls in Senegal so badly. Girls in my country don’t have choices like I was fortunate to have in America. It’s extremely common for children to get jobs at 12. They’re housekeepers. Sometimes girls have to use their looks to get what they can from men. There’s no choice because otherwise, when they go home, there’s no food, no electricity, no money to buy the things they need or education to get a better job. They do what they have to do to survive. Girls are expected to get married and have children very young, limiting their choices in life. It’s difficult to explore the world when you have others to care for. You have to put your family first.
Building a trade school in Senegal isn’t just a crazy dream. It’s not a business venture or a way to get rich. It’s a way to help people. It’s a way to help women. It’s an opportunity to stay where their lives are, where their culture is AND still get an education and have a family. It’s a way to give young women choices. A lot of people leave Senegal for better opportunities, but those opportunities can be created there. Rosebell and I intend to create it.
Please keep sharing and telling your networks because women everywhere deserve a fair chance at quality education!
Sofi & Rosebell