The Jerrycan Girl
Dorothy Chepkemoi is the winner of Lift the Lid’s Eighth Annual Writing Competition at Mogonjet Secondary School in Bomet County, Kenya. In her essay titled “This Is Me,” she describes the moment it sunk in that she was without a father. She writes, “When I was in class five, I realized that I had no father. This really gave me the motivation to work extra hard in school. Since we were many, poverty started knocking at the door.”
Dorothy receiving her award
In order for her mother to keep up with school fees, Dorothy and her seven siblings went hungry. Villagers called her “the Yellow Jerrycan” when she’d go out looking for milk and food. They’d close their doors. Classmates avoided her for her tattered clothing and lack of soap and oils. But she didn’t give up.
She accepted her obstacles, as great as they were and still are, and decided to fight back. She knew if she stopped trying, she’d deny herself the opportunity to make a better life for herself and her family. Now Dorothy is creating a reality in which she’s no longer “the Yellow Jerrycan,” rather the First Place winner of her school’s annual writing competition with Lift the Lid.
I remember a time in high school when I was particularly low on self-esteem and really wanted to be good at something, anything. I knew I wasn’t the lucky type who easily racked up achievements; I had to work for them and fail a few times first, at best. But instead of becoming angry and discouraged, I decided I’d do whatever it took to earn some kind of recognition and feel proud. After listening to “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder many times over (yes, from 1983), I gave my best in school, sports and theater. Just mustering the courage to try, I felt proud.
I cannot compare my challenges to Dorothy’s. She knows how it feels to be hungry and shamed, and her family continues to make sacrifices for her education, but setbacks big and small have the power to pull us off course, if we let them. Fighting back means making the decision to give more and then looking for the support and motivation to “keep on movin’,” as the song goes. Maybe Dorothy’s essay “This Is Me” is the inspiration you need?