Mardia Hahmed only went to school until fifth grade in Ethiopia. In order to help her family, she had to quit school and work as a maid for people she says treated her like an animal. She was expected to do every thing in the house: housekeeping, cooking, taking care of the children, taking care of their livestock — like goats, cows, horses and sheep. She also washed clothes by hand, using water which she carried on her back a long distance from a river.
“I was working a long time without resting. I didn’t have a chance to sleep on a bed, which I always wish. They don’t let me eat my meal the same time they eat. I have to eat after they eat and I have to work the whole night unless I finish my job,” Hahmed said. This is one small example of how denial of education has hurt many African women through generations. According to the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report, 72 percent of African girls across Sub-Saharan Africa never enter high school and 96 percent don’t attend college or university. Many girls are taken out of primary school to be married or help their family and never complete their basic education. But as they immigrate to this country they are changing their lives and getting an education. Hadmed now lives in Minneapolis. She is currently going school in St. Paul. She is very happy that she went back to school, but it was hard for her. Everything was new. The only thing she could do to be a better student is to go to the library and get some help, and look at a dictionary that has her language and English. But now she is getting better and she is doing very well. She would like to study about human rights. After she gets a degree in it, she wants to help others who are suffering like she used to suffer and don’t have a right to speak for themselves. She also wants to stand up for other women who didn’t get to go to school for long. “Going to school makes a lot of different,” she said. “While I was working as a maid, if I was educated person they wouldn’t be able to treat me like that. I would have spoken up for myself.”