You’re never too young to start inspiring others. Asha is the youngest in her family of five children, but she’s the only one to have gone beyond secondary school. Asha’s one of only two girls in her community who have achieved university admission. And she’s aspiring to earn her degree in one of the most prestigious and challenging professions: becoming a lawyer.
Eighteen-year-old Asha comes from a village in the Morogoro region called Mafisa. Like most villages in Morogoro, poverty has left many people in Mafisa in need of education. Tanzanian students over the age of 15 have only a 42 percent chance of completing school. While 25 percent never even attended school. Morogoro may be one of the most fertile regions in Tanzania. But most families struggle to provide two meals a day, let alone pay for school fees.
“Most kids from our area have a desire to study. The challenge is that not every parent can afford to pay school fees. So, they either end up getting married or engaging in manual labor,” says Zelda Kweyamba, Program Director at the Kihonda Student Center.
Every Parent’s Struggle
One of the hardest things for parents is seeing their child struggle. And it’s the dream of every parent for their child to have a better life than they had. This was a desire that Asha’s parents wrestled with as well.
“I felt really bad seeing my children suffer. The only thing I could do was pray to God,” says Zawadi Mohamed, Asha’s mother.
Asha’s parents have endured the harsh conditions that poverty enforces. But they’ve done everything they could to ensure their children received an education. But without essential resources, this seemed near impossible.
“Life was hard. Getting a meal was hard, good clothes were not something I was used to. I remember our primary school was far from home so I had to walk like 3 to 4 kilometers to get to school. When I got there, I was tired, and I missed almost half of the classes. After school when I got back home, I was hungry and tired. But I had to wait until late in the evening so that I could get something to eat,” says Asha.
Asha has been a Compassion beneficiary since she was 6 years old. Her entering into the program was an answer to her mother’s fervent prayers. Finally, one of her children had an opportunity to fulfill her dreams.
They Gave Her the Opportunity to Thrive
Asha and her family received the gifts sent by her sponsor like manna from heaven.
“Gifts were very helpful. I would go with my mother to the market and buy kilos of rice. This helped because when I came home from school I was sure that I would find food at home,” explains Asha.
With the help of her sponsor, Asha was able to complete primary school. And more blessings were in store for Asha. As she reached secondary school, the Ministry of Education instituted that the students would no longer have to pay tuition. Her parents didn’t have to stress over where school fees would be coming from.
Asha’s exam scores held her back from attending the more advanced secondary school. But that didn’t deter her from her goal. She was determined to attend university and become a lawyer.
She’s Claiming Her Right to Protect Their Rights
“I want to be a lawyer not for myself but for my family and community. Most people are suffering because they don’t know their rights. And even if they know, they are either afraid to demand their rights or they do not know the proper channels to go through. So, I want to be a lawyer to mostly educate my people,” Asha shares.
Her average test scores may have extended her journey, but it wouldn’t keep her down. Acceptance into the advanced secondary school is seen as an indicator of future success. And many believe that not attending disqualifies you from accomplishing your goals. So she needed to rise above this view, and prove people wrong.
So, Asha enrolled in Mzumbe University to fight for her dream. And now her whole family stood behind her and supported her goal. They had an unrivaled sense of pride for Asha and joy for what she was doing.
“I am certain, and I tell that to my daughter every day, one day I will see her on TV as an accomplished lawyer,” says Zawadi with a smile on her face.
Adversity Takes One More Stand
After everything she had overcome, her lack of resources again may have stolen this opportunity from Asha. Joining university meant paying for tuition, books and other fees. It was not going to be cheap. The church saw Asha’s desire and hunger to succeed, so it listed her to receive aid from Compassion’s Complementary Interventions (CIV).
Zelda says, “This intervention is a lifesaver to families like Asha’s. Our desire is to get children as close as possible to their dreams as we can. For Asha and others, paying for their university expenses is moving them a step closer to realizing their dreams.”
Adversity is known to build character; for Asha, it gave her motivation and purpose. She understands that God equipped her to help others, her family and even her community.
Already Helping People Protect Themselves
“I am not yet a practicing lawyer, but I feel like I owe my community. Just days ago, I advised a lady whose land was about to be taken from her. Now every time I meet with her, she is always thanking me. These are the type of things I believe I was placed on this earth to do. Thanks to Compassion because that’s where this spirit was nurtured,” says Asha.
People in Asha’s community see her differently because of what she has achieved. But this inspiring young woman is not yet done.
During one school break, Asha gathered young people from her village and started educating them about entrepreneurship. They came up with a business plan, and even submitted it to their Ward Representative.
“The Ward Representative loved our plan … I am excited about what we are going to achieve. I am happy that this will not only benefit me but also others who are less fortunate,” explains Asha.
The success of the group has renewed hope in what the youths of their village are capable of accomplishing. And it’s inspiring her peers, like Tulia, one of Asha’s entrepreneurs.
Children in this community are forced to grow up quickly. When they are given hope, they hold on to it tightly.
“I am two years older than Asha, but I received more advice from her than I have given,” says Tulia with a laugh.
Asha dreams of sitting in the court of appeals in Tanzania as the Chief Justice. Her journey has only begun, and no one is going to stop her from reaching her goal.
You can be a part of an inspiring story like Asha’s by giving a young person the opportunity to succeed.
Photos and stories by photojournalist Eric D. Lema.