Hello Rita of Portland, Oregon and Kilifi, Kenya!

My name is Rita Ombaka. I am currently a junior at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. I live in a small coastal town in Kenya known as Kilifi. Much as my heart warms up with every thought of the white sandy beaches and palm trees, it is always painful to go back home from school to the vivid reminder of the divide between the rich and the poor.

The mansions and beach houses along the coast conveniently hide all the mud shacks and huts in the interior of Kilifi county. My holidays at home are half of the time spent wondering if Fatuma, a girl barely older me, is content with getting paid a small wage in return for doing house chores and laundry, I wondered how my friend Maimuna felt when she had to give up high school to get married.

A woman in Kilifi is a state of being. There are guidelines to being a woman. You are not to be seen walking late at night or in the company of men. Like Fatuma, who now has five children, women seek household chores with a daily wage to feed their families.  Although I pity these women, I only realize that my feeling is only this way because of my exposure to what life is supposedly meant to be. Where women are emancipated from gender discrimination and everyone is entitled to minimum wage. Whenever I get the chance to chat with Fatuma and encourage her to try new things, she often views my ideas as ludicrous or virtually impossible.

I always feel lucky for having escaped such ways of thinking but for the most part, I feel that it is the sadest thing to be aware of the untapped potential that the youth have in Kilifi County.

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