Today I visited Hibiscus High School. I met a few girls who were members of the Girls' Club. The girls shared their personal stories, experiences and hopes for the future.

There were many inspirational stories and dreams of girls becoming doctors, accountants, engineers, politicians, you name it! But I want to focus today’s blog on one particular story which stood out from the rest.

This is Meraline’s story.

Meraline is 19 years old. She’s currently doing her A Levels (Economics, Geography, History) and has been at Hibiscus since it opened in 2011. She has 8 brothers and sisters and is the 5th oldest. She is the first person to ever go to school in her family. The first thing I noticed about Meraline was her contagious smile; it’s one of those smiles which make you smile uncontrollably with her.

Meraline firstly explained that she’s at Hibiscus on a scholarship as her family couldn’t afford the fees, even though the fees are small in comparison to other schools in the area. She tells me she comes from a very humble family of coffee growers who live about 10km away from the school. She goes on to explain that nine members of her family live together in a one roomed mud hut and the nearest water pump is an 8km walk away.

Before she was at school, Meraline walked the 8km to collect water at least 3 times a day. If she was not collecting water, she would be caring for her younger siblings or cooking and cleaning because her parents would be out all day on the coffee plantations. Girls are often the ones made to collect the water and Meraline tells me she found it time consuming and exhausting. But it became her life for 12 years. Meraline told me how much easier her life is now she has access to clean water and sanitation. Before attending Hibiscus, she struggled with managing her menstrual cycle because she had no availability of clean sanitation. She told me she felt embarrassed and unwell whenever she had her period. Fortunately, Hibiscus has sanitation blocks and ‘Dorm Mothers’ who are available day and night for any girl to access whenever they may need.

Meraline (front left) describes the bags they have crafted in the Girls' Club at Hibiscus Secondary School.

I asked Meraline what she would be doing if she was not at school, other than collecting the water and cooking and cleaning. Meraline looked down at her lap and whispered in a helpless voice; “I was to be married”. For a few moments, her smile disappeared from her face and her eyes, sad and colourless marked her despair. “I was told that I was going to be married at 15. It is common for girls in humble families to marry young as it can help your family’s income”, Meraline expresses. I didn’t know what to say and I could feel a knot forming in my throat. I felt so angry that someone as intelligent and caring as Meraline could be denied an education by marrying so young. Thankfully, Meraline saved me from crying by displaying once more her infectious smile and saying, “I am no longer going to think of my past suffering because I am lucky to be at school. I have escaped my misery and I am going to go to university and study to become a lawyer”.

 I asked why she wanted to be a lawyer. Meraline explained again how she comes from a humble family, who have very little. She told me that none of her eight brothers and sisters own a pair of shoes and her mother cannot read or write. Meraline wants to be a lawyer so that she can help families like her own. Meraline tells me that her family couldn’t afford a lawyer in a time where they desperately needed one and it resulted in severe consequences. She wants to be accessible for all families, rich and poor but especially for the poorer families. She strives for global economic equality and hopes that one day the gap between rich and poor will shrink.

I am no longer going to think of my past suffering because I am lucky to be at school. I have escaped my misery and I am going to go to university and study to become a lawyer

Meraline is a truly inspirational young woman who I hope will achieve her dreams of getting to a good university and becoming a lawyer. It’s so rewarding to hear stories like hers because you cannot help but think what she would be doing if she had not had the chance of having a good education. So much intelligence and understanding could have gone to waste. Think of a flower. Without water and sunlight it cannot grow. The flower would eventually wither away. Imagine Meraline is that flower and the water and sunlight represent a PEAS school. Without access to a PEAS school, Meraline would wilt away and not be able to grow to her a full potential. Meraline’s story is an extraordinary example of someone reaching the unreached.

Kate attends Fortismere School in Haringey and visited schools in Uganda with the Costa Foundation