In less than nine months, I will be graduating from high school. And in less than a year, I will be starting college. For the past 12 years, I have been blessed with an education that has empowered me to challenge the status quo. Guided by a love of learning and a supportive school system, I have been emboldened with the faith that I can leverage the knowledge I’ve acquired – whether within or beyond the classroom – to make a tangible difference in the world.
However, unlike me, adolescent girls across the world face persistent barriers to the education that they are entitled to – the 2013 documentary Girl Rising posits that as many as 66 million girls are out of school globally. The lamentable, inescapable truth is that when a girl is shut out of educational institutions, she inevitably faces the brunt of abuse, early marriage, maternal mortality, poverty, and financial dependence.
But we can change this reality for the 66 million girls worldwide.
I believe that girls’ education is one of the most powerful investments anyone can make. When a girl completes her secondary education, she receives an 18% increase in future wages. When a mother has an extra year of schooling, the risks of her children having infant mortality is reduced by 5% to 10%. Furthermore, girls’ education is crucial to a decline in fertility rates, as girls will have knowledge about family planning and contraceptives. Educated girls are less susceptible to gender-based violence and forced prostitution than their uneducated counterparts, attesting to the potent truth that girls’ education is a critical steppingstone to individual empowerment.
And these intrinsic links exist because when girls are educated, they are able to challenge accepted axioms and traditions, wholly ready to make blows against injustices in their societies. Formative experiences within the context of a classroom will influence a girl’s career path, giving her the training and intellectual inspiration needed to pursue her passions. An educated girl will become financially self-sufficient; the perpetual cycles of poverty in her family will be shattered because she is likely to invest in her children’s education as well.
The more I learn about girls’ education, the more my passion for this cause grows. Thus I strive, in every initiative I lead, to expedite access to girls’ education in developing communities. In my sophomore year of high school, I co-founded the Hong Kong chapter of Givology, a nonprofit with the philosophy of universalizing quality education through a crowdfunding business model, because I wanted to support grassroots organizations that were working to improve girls’ access to education. Our chapter spent the 2013-2014 year financing educational projects for Starfish, a nonprofit that empowers girls in Guatemala through education and mentorship. Through a trailblazing educational curriculum, Starfish has fostered a paradigm shift and helped 500 girls surmount the obstacles that have hampered their ancestors.
When talking to Starfish representatives, I am continually amazed by the stories I hear about girls who are empowered to empower others, changing the fabric of their society as they do so. Through small-scale film screenings, book discussions, silent auctions, and spare change drives, our chapter was able to raise $1200 for Starfish’s family violence intervention training, vocal empowerment, and career development programs! I am so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to support such meaningful and relevant initiatives with the Hong Kong Chapter of Givology, and be part of the change for adolescent girls.
This academic year, Givology’s Hong Kong chapter is partnering with Emerge Global, a nonprofit that enables girls in Sri Lanka who have survived sexual abuse to become jewelry designers. We are currently raising funds for business acumen and math programs so that Emerge‘s girls can launch enterprises, initiate community projects, secure a steady income stream, and finance necessities like future education, childcare, and medical support. What I love most about Emerge Global is its ethos of channeling adversity into action – by removing stigmas attached to sexual violence and making crucial investments in education, Emerge fortifies girls with the financial, social, and personal capital needed to change their communities and world.
My wish for the Post-2015 development agenda is that the global action campaign for girls’ education will continue to expand. The first step is to show world leaders and decision-makers that girls must realize their fundamental rights to education and not be denied education because of their gender. Through the #ShowYourSelfie Campaign for Youth, I declare that we must work relentlessly to expedite access to girls’ education. Let’s continue to collaborate in the fight to give adolescent girls in the developing world the education they rightfully deserve.