By Kerri Romeo
Traveling through the rabbit hole internationally, Alice was learning about places she had never heard of before. Even countries with familiar names seemed so far away they may as well have been mythical lands. She wanted to change that. She wanted to know children around the globe. She began to listen to their stories and found them relatable in many ways. A boy in Goma is happy to have his cat. A girl in Afghanistan plays jump rope with her friends. And younger siblings are found building with legos or playing with a doll in Yemen.
Alice notices in all other countries, the children’s faces glow when they speak about education. They see it as a gift. This made her curious because lessons always felt like a chore for her. They are also proud to give you a tour of their humble homes of mud and clay. The innocent enthusiasm they share does not invite pity nor is their intention ever to provoke shame. They are welcoming and thrilled you are interested to know them! Alice begins to understand gratitude in a way that material things in the no-wonderland could never replace.
When Alice steps out of the rabbit hole she expects to find more of the earthy colors. To her surprise she is met with vibrant colors, music and festivities. What are they celebrating? She makes her way through the crowd. She tries to stretch to see the guest of honor on tiptoes.
“Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope!”Alice in Wonderland, Chapter 1
Alice is carried along by the crowd to find a girl in a lavish dress seated on a golden throne. She looks like a princess. But sad. Or…scared? She must be about 12 years young. A man sits next to her beaming with pride. It must be her grandfather. It seems extravagant for a birthday party. The young girl’s sad and scared eyes concern Alice. An older girl taps Alice on the shoulder and invites her to join her. Alice hesitates. She wants to talk to the girl with the sad eyes before the party ends. But her new friend assures Alice she wants to help the girl too. Help her? Now Alice was really worried.
“And though the shadow of a sighThrough the Looking Glass, Preface
May tremble through the story,
For ‘happy summer days’ gone by,
And vanish’d summer glory—”
Alice was led through the village to join a group of girls – some younger, some older than her. This was her new friend’s “mission possible”. The mission to educate and empower girls to end child marriage. Like the wedding of the sad girl who looked like a princess to a man old enough to be her grandfather. Like a girl who became pregnant before even understanding how babies were made. Like a girl who was regularly physically abused by the husband she was forced to marry. All under the age of 18. Despite being against the law, it is still common in many countries: Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Gana, Nepal, Indonesia, Yemen and beyond. And while child marriage is not an epidemic in the US, human trafficking is.
What are the reasons given not to protect a child? Custom. Tradition. Religious belief. Poverty. When the reasons given are believed to provide protection rather than cause harm, it can be challenging to change the narrative. Alice wondered what beliefs she carried that might seem contradictory to someone outside her culture. When the reasons given are designed to perpetuate unhealthy norms how do we promote evolution without invoking further defiance and resistance? When the reasons given do not protect a child, they are never reason enough. When the damaging consequences are unseen or unacknowledged, what new vision can be seen? Where do we go from here?
“…she too began dreaming after a fashion, and this was her dream…”Alice in Wonderland, Chapter XII
Kerri spends her days as an office administrator for a ballet barre manufacturer and her free time playing frisbee with her dog in NJ. Often at a loss for words in person, she writes to make sense of the world and connect with others. She wishes for more curiosity & kindness in the world.