I haven’t been able to do much blogging this summer. This photo may help explain why:
Today is the first day of school for my kids. We had a great summer, but – clearly – it is time for them to go back to to school! Hopefully it also means that I will have a little more time to myself to think and write and post to The Human Rights Warrior.
In the meantime, here is a repost on The Importance of Educating Girls that I originally wrote for World Moms Blog in 2012. The first day of school always makes me so thankful that my children, especially my daughter, are able to access their right to education.
The Importance of Educating Girls
Fifth grade class in Chuchoquesera, Peru
When I visited the classroom pictured above in the Peruvian highlands back in 2004, I noticed that slightly more than half of the students were girls. I remarked on this fact to the human rights activist who was giving us the tour of this Quechua-speaking indigenous community. He smiled sadly and said, “Yes, but this is fifth grade. In sixth grade, children go to a lower secondary school that is farther away. Most of the girls won’t go. It takes too long to walk there and they are needed to help at home, so the parents won’t let them go. Besides, most of them will be married soon.” Unfortunately, this is a situation that is repeated throughout the world
In the United States, where education is both compulsory and free, we often forget that the right to education is not meaningfully available in many parts of the world – especially for girls. The UN estimates that there were more than 67 million primary school-age and 73 million lower secondary school-age children out of school worldwide in 2009. In addition, an estimated 793 million adults lack basic literacy skills. The majority of them are women.
Since then, I have visited classrooms and asked questions about girls’ access to education in countries on several continents. This is a photo I took at Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana.
Boys far outnumbered girls in this classroom, illustrating one of the problems for girls in accessing education. When resources are scarce, parents will often choose to spend the money on school fees for their sons rather than their daughters.
Boys also outnumbered girls at this school that I visited outside of Yaounde, Cameroon.
Attendance Board in primary grade class in a school outside of Yaounde, Cameroon
There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality. It is also one the best ways to promote economic growth and development.
“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”
Fourth grade student at Sankhu-Palubari Community School wearing Newari traditional dress
On a much smaller scale, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal is doing its part to encourage gender parity in education and increase literacy rates. The school works in partnership with The Advocates for Human Rights (the non-profit where I work) to prevent child labor and improve the lives and well-being of the neediest children in this community in the Kathmandu Valley. I travelled there in January for our annual monitoring visit.
Pre-K student at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, Nepal
This year, the school has successfully met goals for gender parity among students in both the primary and lower secondary grades. For the 2011-2012 school year, 147 of the 283 students in pre-school through eighth grade are girls. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, 15 of the 31 students in ninth and tenth grade are young women.
9th Grade students at SPCS
Most of the students’ families work in agriculture. They are farmers with little or no money to spare on school fees, uniforms and supplies. Many of them are from disadvantaged groups such as the Tamang and Newari. Indigenous group with their own cultures and languages, the indigenous students must learn Nepali as well as English when they come to school. Frequently, the adults in the family are illiterate.
How has the teaching staff managed this success at keeping girls in school? Since the school’s founding in 1999, the teachers have conducted outreach to parents and worked hard to encourage female students to attend and stay in school in spite of societal pressure to get married or enter domestic work. It took more than 10 years, but their efforts have paid off. While girls worldwide generally are less likely to access, remain in, or achieve in school, 52% of the students in K-8th grades at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School this year are girls. And a girl is at the top of the class in most of the grades at SPCS.
The impact of the school both on the individual students and on the community over the past 12 years has been profound. When I was there in March of 2011, we interviewed approximately 60% of the parents of SPCS students. It was clear to me that parents value the education that their children are receiving and, seeing the value, have ensured that the younger siblings are also enrolled in school rather than put to work. Twelve years ago, there were many students in the area out of school but now most are attending school. I could also see the physical benefits that the students derived from attending school when they stood next to their parents. Even the 5th grade girls towered over their parents, illustrating the simple cause-and-effect of adequate nutrition, wellness checkups, and not having to work in the fields from a very young age.
The Sankhu-Palubari Community School may be a small school in a remote valley, but it is a place where the human right to education is alive and well, providing a better future for these children. In particular, the effect that these girls have on their community, their country and – hopefully, the world – will be thrilling to watch.
I’ll be heading back to Nepal to visit the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in just a few weeks. Stay tuned!
Every morning when I come into work, I am greeted by the smiling face of a young girl. Her hair is pulled neatly back into two braids, glossy black against her pink hairbands. Her eyes, dark and alert, shine at me – I swear I can see them twinkle.
She wears the blue uniform of her school, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in rural Nepal. The Advocates for Human Rights supports the school to provide the right to education to the most disadvantaged kids in the area and to prevent them from becoming involved in child labor. Photographs from the school hang on the walls of our office, reminders to us of the lives that we impact with our human rights work.
Even though I see her every day, until last month I had never met this cheerful young girl, a girl whose smile – even in a photo – comes from her core, seems to light her entire being. Until last month, I did not know that her name was Kanchi. And I had never heard her incredible story.
In 1999, Kanchi was six years old. She lived with her family in a village in the Kathmandu Valley. Her parents were poor farmers; they had only a little land and some cattle and they struggled to feed their family. Kanchi was the youngest of six sisters. She and her sisters (and also her brother) had to help their parents in the fields and with household chores. Kanchi’s job was also to take the cattle to the forest to graze. Kanchi did not go to school. There were many children in Nepal that did not go to school at that time, but girls, like Kanchi, were more likely than boys to work rather than go to school – particularly in rural areas like the Suntole district where she lived.
Kanchi was a very smart and determined little girl. She wanted to go to school. So when she heard that a new school was opening in the Sankhu-Palubari community – a school for kids who were not able to go to school because they couldn’t pay or were discriminated against – she was very excited. She rushed off to tell her parents. But her parents, who had never themselves been educated, were not as excited as Kanchi. Why should they let her go to school? Who would help feed the family? Why should they send her to school if she was only going to get married in a few years anyway?
Kanchi says that she cried for a month and begged her parents to let her go to school. One day, teachers from the new school came to visit Kanchi’s parents to talk to them about the school. The teachers explained that it would help THEM if Kanchi could read and write. They explained why it was important for all children to go to school, even girls. They told them that all children – even the poorest, the lowest-caste, members of indigenous groups – had a right to education.
Kanchi’s older sisters, who had never had the opportunity to go to school, took her side. Instead getting an education, they had all married young and were working in the fields. Kanchi’s sisters argued that Kanchi should go to school, take this opportunity for a life that would be different from theirs. Finally, their parents agreed to let Kanchi go to school.
Kanchi started at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in 1999, one of 39 students in the first kindergarten class. To get to school, Kanchi had to walk one and a half hours each way. There were many other obstacles along the way, too. At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming. But she stayed in school and worked hard. She told her parents, “I want to do something different from the others.”
Kanchi liked her teachers and felt supported by them. She felt that the best thing about the school was the teaching environment. She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from 8th grade. She continued on to high school and completed 12th grade at Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012. The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is also the first girl from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to graduate from 12th grade.
I met Kanchi for the first time in September. Almost exactly 13 years after this brave little girl started kindergarten, she is a lovely young woman who is preparing for her university entrance exams. She plans to study agriculture starting in January. Her parents are proud of her and they are happy now – she has chosen the family profession – but Kanchi is interested in learning more about organic farming so she can bring techniques back to her village. “I want to live a healthy life and give a healthy life to others,” she says.
Sitting in the principal’s office at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, I asked her what the school meant to her. Kanchi said, “I gained from this school my life. If I hadn’t learned to read and write, I would be a housewife.” When asked about her sisters, she told me that they had made sure to send their own children to school.
In her free time, Kanchi likes to sing and dance and make handicrafts to decorate her room. She likes to play with her sisters’ children. She has a smile that lights the whole world. She told me her nickname, Himshila. She smiled when she told me it means “mountain snow, strong rock”. Strong rock. That seems just about right.
October 11, 2012 is the first International Day of the Girl Child. The United Nations has designated this day to promote the rights of girls, highlight gender inequalities and the challenges girls face, and address discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe. In many ways, the story of Kanchi and her sisters reflects the experience of girls in many countries throughout the world. All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.
The International Day of the Girl is a day to recommit ourselves to ensuring that girls like Kanchi have the chance to live their lives to their fullest possible potential. To redouble our efforts to promote the rights of girls wherever they live in the world. This first International Day of the Girl is also a day to honor girls like Kanchi. A day to take the story of her success in one tiny corner of Nepal and shout it out, an inspiration for girls all around the world. Girls like Kanchi with the strength, the bravery, the determination to change the world, but who just need the opportunity.
You must be logged in to post a comment.