I first met Maryam in 2013 at the safe house where she lives. It’s a home for girls, most of whom were sent by their families to work as domestic servants and ran away from abusive circumstances, found themselves on the streets, and turned to prostitution to survive. Each girl has a different background though and I wasn’t aware of Maryam’s circumstances or life prior to coming to the safe house. I was instantly impressed with her incredible English skills despite being out of school for several years and in the government system prior to that. It was clear she’s incredibly intelligent but also just all around has a wonderful personality that exudes dignity and kindness. I remember having the sense that she didn’t seem to have as many problems in her past as some of the other girls – but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Back then I thought that it would be wonderful if Scolastica could help Maryam someday. Then this year I learned that Maryam was at the top of her class, finishing her O Levels and would be changing schools next year for A Levels – in other words a perfect time for Scolstica to try to help. It wasn’t until months later that I saw on the facebook page of the safe house a video that a volunteer made about Maryam’s life. I had no idea from meeting her that she had been through such tragedy and horrific experiences. It was also from the video that I learned she wants to be a lawyer to help vulnerable girls and women, which as a fellow human rights lawyer just makes me adore her even more.
Below is the video – please take a few minutes to watch it. In the video she tells her story in her own words – which is much better than me rambling here. It’s incredibly compelling and also inspiring to see how Maryam turned the abuse and terrible things she experienced into something positive by helping other girls in the situation she was in not so long ago.
Maryam also spoke at the ICTR (United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) on International Women’s Day. They showed her video to the audience and she introduced it. She was so brave to get up in front of a room full of strangers to present her experiences and she did it with such class and dignity. I have no doubt she’s going to make an incredible lawyer. But she doesn’t really have a chance if she stays in the government school system – which is the only school the place where she lives can afford. Assisting Maryam to attend a better school not only helps Maryam, but also significantly alleviates a financial burden on the safe house which in turn frees funds for them to assist other girls in need. It also will help countless girls and women in the future that Maryam will assist and inspire as their lawyer.