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Why We Must Support Girls' Education Around the World

Last week at the UNC Asheville Girls' Education Summit I had the chance to share why we--as students, educators, parents--must be aware of the global education emergency facing our world. Among all the heartbreaking things happening in our world today, I truly believe that education is the greatest solution. As humanity, we cannot make progress if half the population is left behind. That is why girls' education must be a top priority.


You may be surprised by the heart-wrenching facts surrounding girls' education inequality; like how there are 31 million girls of primary school age out of school and of these, 17 million are expected never to enter school. And there are 4 million fewer girls than boys out of school. And two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female.




Thanks to an incredible organization called She's the First, my friends and I were empowered to make a difference. She's the First provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries, helping them be the first girl in their family to receive a formal education. I started a campus chapter of She's the First at my university, and together we creatively fundraised through bake sales, 5K races, and cultural events to sponsor scholarships for girls. 


At our first bake sale, we suprisingly ended up raising $300 which went directly to the scholarship of an incredible girl named Jharana, who lives in Nepal. Jharana is the first girl in her family to go to school. $300 was enough to sponsor a full year of school, including her medical checkups, uniform, books, and meals. This bake sale provided a scholarship that changed the entire trajectory of Jharana’s life, because when a girl is educated she becomes unstoppable. 

Credit: shesthefirst.org





   
The amount of money we raised was not the only highlight of our fundraisers. They were special because of the conversations they generated. Each person who attended She's the First events wanted to know why we were raising money for scholarships for girls, but not boys. We explained how many girls were out of school. WHY girls were out of school. And exactly HOW She’s the First was working to change that. Many people were shocked by the terrifying statistics. They wanted to know how they could help and join in on the journey to break barriers in education. Through our fundraising events, I found my passion and purpose to share these conversations with the younger generation.

Jharana isn’t just an important part of my life, but she’s part of my 2nd graders lives as well. My senior year of college, I got really sad about having to leave behind the campus chapter of She’s the First that I poured so much love and energy into. I was determined to find a way to bring She’s the First to my classroom which is how the She’s the First service-learning curriculum was born. 

Through virtual field trips on Google Earth, my students visit the countries of all She’s the First partner schools. They learn about the life stories of She’s the First scholars. They participate in rich discussions about racial equity, gender equality, and global awareness. 


Each year, for the past 5 years, my 2nd graders have sponsored a year of school for Jharana through creative fundraising like bake sales, craft fairs, and even plant sales. They have so much fun living by our motto that “you’re never to young to change the world.”

I’ll never forget my first year teaching. We did our first virtual field trip to Nepal and my kids learned about Jharana’s story. The next day, a little boy brought an envelope of coins. It had 63 cents total. He told me that he emptied his piggy bank. He said school wouldn’t be the same without girls there too. 

That sweet moment gives me so much hope. The generations to come are compassionate and kind. They’re also very aware. With the right support and guidance, they will end the education emergency. I believe in my students. I believe in the younger generation. Spend just one day in my classroom, and you will too. 



The more involved I became with She’s the First, the more I realized that this was so much more than an organization. She’s the First was, and still is, a response to a global education emergency. Education is a fundamental human right, yet millions of children—especially girls—are not in school receiving the quality education they deserve. 

In 2013 I had the life-changing honor of representing She’s the First at Malala Day at the United Nations in New York City.


In her first public speech since the shooting, Malala said “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.” I had chills hearing her say those words and I still get chills reliving that moment. What’s so powerful about those words is that she’s exactly right. When we educate just ONE girl, she, in turn educates her family, her village, her community. 

Malala concluded her speech with a call to action, a call to action that we cannot forget and must continue to stand behind. She said “We call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all the peace deals must protect women and children's rights. A deal that goes against the dignity of women and their rights is unacceptable. We call upon all governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child all over the world. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world.”

As a citizen of the United States--a developed nation that provides education to all-- it is my duty to act and, like Malala said, support expansion of educational opportunities. 

That is why the work of She’s the first is so important. That’s why our work and this conversation must continue. 

Because Jharana is in school, she will earn 20% more per year of schooling. She is less likely to marry early and more likely to be in a healthy relationship, despite traditional roles. She will have fewer, healthier children. She is changing the world around her for the better. 
The Race for Equality from She's the First on Vimeo.



Because of their amazing leadership, Jharana and Sirjana were named She’s the First Scholars of the Year. It was an honor to present their award and to meet the inspiring girl who I’d been pen pals with for years. 

The co-founder of She’s the First, Christen Brandt, once said that her ultimate vision for She’s the First is that it will do its job, and no longer be needed. I believe that day will come, but only if more people join us. So, what else can we do to help? It all starts with awareness. Educate yourself and your students. Mentor a girl. Share your knowledge with others. And teachers, consider bringing our free service-learning curriculum to your classroom. 

You can also join the conversation using  #WithMyBookbag:

So my first challenge for you right now, is to take a moment and tweet or post what YOU’ve been able to do with your book bag. Let’s continue this journey together, to let all girls chase their dreams with their book bags over their shoulder.