A Girl Called Problem–Fiction Meets the Day of the Girl

By: Joanne C.

This post is written by Katie Quirk, who is the author of the middle-grade novel A Girl Called Problem.

When people ask what inspired me to write my middle-grade novel set in Tanzania, A Girl Called Problem, my answer always boils down to one word: girls. Here’s a short video a Tanzanian friend and I put together that begins to explain why:

While living in Tanzania, East Africa, for two years, it didn’t take long for me to determine that the heroes, or in this case heroines, of village life were girls. The chores they did every day–hauling buckets of water, washing clothes by hand, cooking over fires of wood they had scavenged from the forests, mopping their homes on hand and knee–were awesome. The prejudice they faced was real–baby girls were sometimes fed less nutritious food than baby boys, and girls were often told they weren’t worth educating. The sexual threats they had to deal with–from teachers, from bus drivers whom they had to rely on to get to school–were frequent. And yet I met so many joyful, hardworking, extraordinarily determined young women and girls who studied well into the night by kerosene lanterns, who took on extra jobs to pay for their own school fees, and who courageously stood up to men who threatened to abuse them.

I left Tanzania after only two years and I couldn’t stop thinking about these girls. I wrote essays and journal entries, and after many years, my novel emerged: A Girl Called Problem. It’s the story of a girl whose name literally means “Problem” in Swahili. In spite of her name, Shida is spirited and talented. She also seems to have a gift for healing people with herbal medicines. But she and her family are viewed as cursed, and even at 13-years old, most people believe her greatest prospect in life is getting married. Then Shida gets an offer to move. In fact, her whole village is invited to relocate to a village over the hills. For Shida this move would mean her first opportunity to attend school and a chance to apprentice to a village nurse, but many of her fellow villagers are not so sure it’s a good idea.

That’s just the beginning, but you get the gist. At the end of the novel, I have an author’s note talking about the importance of girls in development, the notion that if you empower and educate a girl, you enrich her whole community.

How important and exciting it is to be celebrating International Day of the Girl Child for a second year in a row. I’m grateful to the young women at School Girls Unite who initially made the push to make this day official, and I’d be delighted if one way you choose to celebrate the day is by readingA Girl Called Problem or recommending it to a middle-school-aged friend who might wonder what life would be like for her in another part of the world.

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