“Education is the only solution.” – Malala Yousafzai
On January 12, 2010, when Wadley – a girl growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — was just seven years old, the world that she once knew was forever changed. An earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and left just as many injured. Its aftermath was unimaginable. Thousands upon thousands were left homeless and found themselves scrounging for the most basic necessities. Like so many others, Wadley and her mother moved to a tent city. Despite all the hardships, Wadley held on tight to her dreams: she wanted more than anything to go back to school.
When she found out the school had reopened she was overjoyed. She dropped the bucket she used to gather water and dashed home to tell her mother. But Wadley’s mother told her that she would not be returning to school because there was no money to pay the fees. Undaunted, Wadley returned to the makeshift school. The teacher sent her away. “You are not a student here,” the teacher said. “Your mother hasn’t paid.” Wadley didn’t really understand what money was, but it seemed to make a difference in life. Still, Wadley desperately wanted to be in school. So, she went back, again and again, until finally, her teacher gave in.
Wadley is one of the lucky ones. She is back in school and happiest in her favorite class — science. In November, 2013, she even had a chance to do math problems with Secretary Duncan during his visit to Haiti. According to the Global Monitoring Report, in 2012, 66 million girls were not in school. All the facts tell us that educating girls worldwide is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Children are twice as likely to survive when their mother is literate. Women who are educated are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. Evidence shows that crop yields increase by ten percent when women own the same amount of land as men. And when a country sends ten percent more of its girls to school, GDP increases by three percent on average.
On July 17, the International Affairs Office hosted a panel discussion at the U.S. Department of Education on the importance of educating girls worldwide and a screening of excerpts of Girl Rising, a film which highlights Wadley’s story as well the stories of eight other girls. Senior Advisor to the Secretary Maureen McLaughlin served as moderator. The panelists reminded us that, though great strides have been made, much work is left to be done. They also challenged those in attendance to roll up our sleeves and get involved. On a large scale, USAID announced a new program to increase enrollment and improve early-grade reading for at least 500,000 children, including 250,000 girls in Northern Nigeria. Here at home, individually, we can teach our own children about the challenges girls face around the world. We can increase their empathy and understanding. And we can encourage them to think globally and act locally.
Rebecca Miller is an international affairs specialist in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education.