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Purity and Lucy at the safe house in Narok County, Kenya.

Purity and Lucy at the safe house in Narok County, Kenya.

Photographer: Nichole Sobecki for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Lost Girls of Covid

The pandemic is erasing decades of progress in young women’s health, education, and independence in developing nations.

At the girls’ rescue house down the quiet end of a dusty road in Narok County, Kenya, there are girls who are friends, and then there are Purity and Lucy. Sisters, they both say. Purity is 17; Lucy, 19. Where Purity is soft-spoken and shy, Lucy is gregarious and funny, with expressive eyebrows and a sardonic affect. When she smiles—and she smiles a lot—the corners of her mouth turn almost vertical, and her cheeks, still freckled with teenage acne, go full and flush. Purity is slender as tall grass, with glowing skin and a gap in her lower teeth that she habitually pokes her tongue through. Both grew up in traditional Masai communities, in different areas that are within striking distance of Masai Mara National Reserve, a game park that, in normal times, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. Neither one’s parents went to school; Purity and Lucy were set to be among the first generation of girls in their communities to graduate from high school, maybe even from college. Covid’s Lost Girls by The Big Take