Last October, Goats and Soda began a series called #15Girls. The stories explored the lives of 15-year-olds who sought to take control and change their fate — despite daunting obstacles.
It’s been a year, and we wanted to check back with the girls we profiled and see how their lives have changed. We weren’t able to reach them all, but we did find out how five of the teens are faring in 2016.
When we met Fatmeh, she was a Syrian refugee living in Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. She and her family were mired in debt after paying a driver to ferry them out of war-torn Syria. To pay off the debt, she and four of her siblings worked seven days a week, up to 14 hours a day, in a farmer’s fields — picking vegetables, plucking weeds and tending crops.
For Fatmeh, a top student at her school in Syria, life was bleak. But she had a “very small hope” that she’d be able to return to school and even go to college.
Over the past year, NPR’s Rebecca Davis has been keeping tabs on Fatmeh’s situation. She still feels pressure to work to pay off her family’s debts. And she and her older sister worry that, after missing more than two years of school, they’re too old to go back.
She does not feel that her parents support her dream of continuing her education. UNICEF offered her a chance to attend school with no tuition costs, but the school is in another town — and her father has forbidden her to go.
Lala and Milena
Lala and Milena, two teens from Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favelas, or shantytowns, love playing soccer. But they faced discrimination for playing because they are girls.
“When I started playing I felt there was a lot of prejudice, they call me a macho girl, they called me lesbian,” said Lahis Maria Ramos Veras, who goes by “Lala.”
Those mean words didn’t stop them. Thanks to a program called Estrela Sports, they had a chance to practice, play and compete with other girls across Brazil. Milena Medeiros dos Santos dreamed of becoming a professional athlete.
NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro checked in on the girls last week. Lala, now 15, and Milena, 17, are still part of the soccer program.
But over the past year, Lala has had to cut back participation because of family problems. Rent has shot up in her favela, so her father had to take on odd jobs to make ends meet. Her mother had to quit her job to care for Lala’s ailing grandmother full time. And Lala took over running the house, cooking lunch and dinner for her brother, father and grandfather, cleaning up — and attending school in the morning. She still tries to play soccer twice a week.
Milena is still playing soccer — and she has lots of company. Facebook announcements and banners on the street have brought a surge in interest. But Milena is sad about her friend Lala’s situation. Milena says that girls were upset because they’d often have to grab a boy to fill in when Lala couldn’t make it.
Madalitso Mulando, a student at Chinika Secondary School, a public school in Lusaka, Zambia, barely made it to the 10th grade. Her parents told her they couldn’t afford the $150 tuition. Madalitso feared she’d never be able to finish high school and pursue her goal of becoming a doctor.
That all changed after she took a special negotiation course at her school, a version of the training given to Harvard undergrads and MBA students, as well as business executives. With her newfound skills and confidence, she convinced her uncle and other members of her extended family to help pay for her tuition.
Last week, NPR’s Gregory Warner called Madalitso at her home, interrupting her evening chore of washing her school uniform. She is now in the 11th grade and happy in school — although she says too much of her classroom time is spent hiding from the “man from accounts” who collects unpaid school fees. Madalitso has managed to pay only half of the $101 she owes for this year. She’s tried to negotiate with her family for the rest of the money but says “it’s hard.”
She feels a lot of stress these days, mainly around next year’s impending national exam, which will decide whether she merits a scholarship to college. To prepare for that exam, she’ll need tutoring that she can’t afford. She’s already adjusted her aspirations. Instead of hoping for medical school, she’s set her sights on a CPA license to become an accountant.
When we first met Nimmu, she was under immense pressure. Like many girls in her village in India, she had been illegally married at age 10. But she hadn’t been sent to live with her husband because her father had agreed to enroll her with a charity called the Veerni Institute, which is essentially a boarding school for child brides.
As long as Nimmu was getting this free education, her father had an excuse to fend off her in-laws — who had been urging him to hand over Nimmu since she turned 15 last year.
Nimmu was not a strong student. And she had a major test coming up — the national exam that all 10th graders in India must pass to move on to junior year. Nimmu was doing everything she could do prepare, including taking extra tutoring classes and approaching her homework with a new level of seriousness.
The exam was last March — and NPR’s Nurith Aizenman, who has been following Nimmu over the past year, is delighted to report that she passed. Now she’s determined to graduate not just high school, but college. She still expects to join her husband someday. He’s about her age and studying as well right now. But Nimmu says getting an education and a job first is key.
When we met Prakriti Kandel last year in Kathmandu, the 10th grader had a clear goal in life: “I want to pursue political science at a very good college. And my aim in life is to be the prime minister of Nepal and change things,” she said.
You see, across Nepal girls face huge prejudices while they’re having their periods. Prakriti can’t go into her kitchen. She can’t touch her father. She can’t touch her grandmother. And she can’t cook or touch her family’s food.
In rural parts of Nepal, girls face even tougher problems: They are forced to sleep outside in sheds while they’re having their periods.
So Prakriti wanted to go into politics to help young girls in Nepal gain more rights — to get all the girls out of sheds.
But now Prakriti is in 11th grade and her plans have shifted — a bit.
“I feel very passionate about going into science research,” she wrote in an email.
“That, of course, does not mean that I have abandoned my dreams of going into politics; I haven’t.”
It’s just that first she wants to be a scientist — then go into politics.
“The sciences let me look at the world in a way that nothing else can,” she wrote. “It helps me understand the minutest details of the world around and I relish that,” she wrote.
“I will, of course, fight for women’s rights,” she added, “although it took the [NPR] story to make me realize what a big responsibility that was when every one looks up to you, and frankly, it was overwhelming.”
And what’s happening with her novel, Imposter, about the power of menstruation?
“I did some editing last year and finished mid-way, but then I had board exams and had to stop,” Prakriti wrote. “However… I’ve been thinking about working on it and integrating some science into it.”