Education the ‘golden key’ to free girls from poverty

By Deruka Dekuek

Six O’clock was lucky enough to work on CARE Australia’s recent Walk in Her Shoes campaign. One of the campaign’s ambassador’s, Deruka Dekuek, penned a letter to all Australians to remind them just how far charity donations can go.

Dear Australia

We often see pictures of sponsor children on our televisions or in the newspapers, but how do you know if your money is making a difference? Well I owe my education to a foreign aid charity in Kenya. Without it, I would not have hauled myself out of poverty and I would not be feeling my heart burst with happiness every time I wave my own daughter off to school in Australia every morning.

You see, I am happy because unlike my mother, I don’t fear for my daughter’s safety in the same intense way that my mother feared for mine.

I’m not feeling sick with fear about whether or not she will eat today.

She stands shoulder to shoulder with the boys in her class and because she is receiving an education in Australia, and I know she will have the opportunity to earn an income and educate her own children in the future.

Unlike me, her mother, my daughter also has a head start in life because she has been given the beautiful gift of formal learning from such a young age.

I grew up in the South Sudan and watched the outbreak of war at age seven. I lost my dad during the conflict so my mother, a young widow, had to care for my four sisters and I.

Fighting broke out between rebel fighters, who were persecuting Dinka people and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. Because we were Dinka, we had to hide for many years so that we would not be killed.

We spent seven years living in the heart bush, hiding, and often went for days without food. I remember trekking with my family through a very swampy area, trying to find shelter and food, and all we had to eat were water lilies. On a good day, we would find wild fruit from native trees.

I’ve never forgotten meeting a woman in a nearby village who lost all four of her young kids because she could not feed them. Her face still haunts me every day.

But I was lucky because at the age of 16 my brother took me to Kenya. We made it to the Kakuma refugee camp and it was here that I was able to start my education. Kakuma means ‘nowhere’ in Swahili yet it is home to over 170,000 refugees who have fled war and famine in Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and many more countries.

I started prep school at age 16 and from the beginning I worked so hard. The school I went to was funded by foreign aid, and I will always be grateful to the people, who I will never meet, who gave me a chance to learn.

I was driven to escape poverty and bring my siblings with me. I knew that the only way I could do this was to learn. My books were my companions and I was hoping they would take me out of the life that I was living.

After three years in Kakuma, my brother and I received humanitarian visas and we made it to Australia.

Today, I am the proud mother of five children and I work as an interpreter for Sudanese refugees and at the Ballarat Regional Multicultural centre. I help newly arrived migrants settle into their new lives in Victoria.

This year, I have had the opportunity to be an Ambassador for CARE Australia’s Walk in Her Shoes campaign, which asks people raise money for women and children who need it most by walking between 10 and 150 kilometres over two weeks. This is something I am so proud to be a part of because I want so much to help those left behind.

I know that many people think that the problem is so big that nothing they can do to change the situation will help: how can you make a difference to foreign people a world away? But the truth is you can do so much. You have done so much – just look at how people like you have changed my life and the lives of my children.

Financial support is so important for those who are stuck in a deadly cycle of poverty. Those people who donated to keep my school in Kakuma open saved my life.

Every one of us would enjoy honey and milk (an absolute luxury in my homeland) if more women were in positions of leadership. You can begin to help generations of women through gold coin donations to the charity of your choice. You can empower girls to be future leaders. Please give another Deruka the golden key to gain the world’s most powerful weapon; education.

I want send a big hug to everyone who has shown such generosity and kindness, who has given us their hearts to help improve the situation of these girls by supporting charitable campaigns.

Know that the outcome of your kindness will be a future with so many educated, bold and fearless women around the world. I am so proud that my daughter is on the road to becoming one of these women.

Thank you Australia for all you have done for my family and I.

This letter was published on on October 18.

Walk In Her Shoes is a fundraising event, run by CARE Australia. Visit the campaign website for details.