The Girls Room | Kathleen Fahey

Every Wednesday at 14:00 in Musaba, Zambia, I sit in an empty classroom staring at a chalkboard. I’ve been living in this village since May 10, 2018, but have been in Zambia since February 14, 2018. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer working in the LIFE Program (Linking Income, Food, and the Environment) so I am supposed to spend most of my time hanging out with farmers discussing appropriate agroforestry techniques. But I went to college to study film and want to hang out with kids and play games, so I try to spend more of my time with women in the community and their children. I still accomplish my job goals and do the work I’m supposed to do, but I’m trying to make it as entertaining and enjoyable as possible, which means one thing — The Girls Room.

When I arrived in Zambia the first thing I noticed was the stark difference in gender roles. When sitting in a meeting or at a meal, men receive chairs and women sit on the floor on reed mats. Men spend their days working in the fields then take their afternoons to relax at home or go to a local bar and drink. Women wake up 5:00, or sometimes earlier, to begin the chores of the day. They cook, clean, harvest crops, take care of the children, sweep their entire yard, and by then it’s probably just 10:00. Women are the hardest working collective I’ve met here in Zambia. The BaMayos (mothers in the community) consider their resting points of the day when they get to cook an entire meal over an open fire because they get to sit down. For a point of reference, this is the time of day when I get the most sweaty and exhausted.

What I’m trying to get at here is that when I came to Zambia, I saw a whole new way in which femininity was embraced and the plight it can cause women in communities. BaMayos revel in their job, enjoy the long days and laugh when I say I’ll never put this much effort into being a homemaker. Empowering the women in the community is a large portion of my job, which I’m working towards, but my current focus has been on the young girls in Zambia.

Girls in rural Zambia have an immense amount of pressure on them that I would never be able to survive under. They have very little time to truly be kids. As soon as they are able to walk, they are helping around the house with the chores. While the young boys are allowed to make toys and play soccer, the girls are cooking, cleaning, and trying their best to make games out of those activities. So upon my arrival in Musaba, my first order of business was to visit the school and start an after-school girls’ club. That is what led to The Girls Room.

The Girls Room kicks off every Wednesday at 14:00, which means in reality girls start to stroll in around 14:30. Our first meeting had 13 girls aged 5-11. Our second meeting at 62 girls aged 5-17. Our third meeting at 71 girls aged 3-17. I’d hardly consider any of this my doing. The girls have made the club amusing and each meeting gets wilder, larger, and leads to me singing Whitney Houston to them. I intended The Girls Room to be a space for the girls to explore themselves, their passions, their ambition, and, most importantly, forget about all their responsibilities at home and just have fun. We play games, I taught them to play limbo and dizzy bat, they’re working on coloring a mural for a wall on the school, we sing, we dance, they laugh at me, and that’s kind of it. It’s a weird, exciting place for the girls to just hang out.

A couple of weeks ago I joked about how I wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger and then decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 11 years old and how I had been pursuing that for the last 11 years. They didn't understand me, so I wrote out a bemba translation (the local language) and they still weren’t getting what I was saying. I then had a teacher come in and translate for me, assuming it was a lack of bemba knowledge of my behalf. However, she then turned to me and said: “they don’t really get what you mean when you talk about the different jobs you wanted to have.” I was taken aback and decided we’d have our next meeting be themed on aspirations.

So, that is what led me to sit in the empty classroom, again, on a Wednesday waiting for the girls to show up. When they arrived, I played some music and told them a few silly stories. Then I asked each of them, “Finshi mulefwaya ukucita nange ukuba nga mwakula?” Which means, “What do you want to do or to be when you grow up?” They giggled at my butchering of the language and then didn’t have an answer. One of them finally spoke up and said: “we’ve never thought about it.” So I rephrased and asked them what they liked to do the most whether it be dancing or mathematics or teach or take care of sick people or whatever their favorite hobbies were. We went through each person and helped them all figure out what they could be when they are older. The girls laughed at all the weird jobs they could think up for their classmates and laughed even harder when I told them how they could get that job. They were all amazed at the different job options that existed and laughed when I told them all I wanted to do when I’m older is write for Saturday Night Live.

With all of this long rambling being said, I wanted to share some of the girls from The Girls Room and show off what they want to be when they’re older. These girls are brave, interesting, quirky, funny, cooler than me or you, strong-willed, passionate, and badass.

Welcome to The Girls Room!

If you'd like to reach out to Kathleen about her time in Zambia, or get to know the women of The Girls Room, you can find her here and at her email address:

All photos were taken by Kathleen Fahey and have been cleared with the women of The Girls Room to post. They have been made aware of the implications of being on the Internet.

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