Friday, October 11, 2013

Educate the Girl: Hold tight to what you value

Did you hear what today is? It's International Day of the Girl, so declares the United Nations. I didn't hear about it until yesterday. I had never heard of the day before. It's only been in existence since 2011. According to a Huffington Post article about it, the day was created to raise awareness about the inequalities faced by females every day. And so today is a day for the girl.

I can't as a middle class female, born in the United States, with a college education, tell you all the ways I have been treated unequally from my male peers, although it has happened. It would be disingenuous of me to try to convince you of the ways I have struggled. I have not. Not in comparison to all the other girls in the world who struggle daily.  

What I can tell you is that I have been to Cambodia and I have met girls who were sold into sexual slavery at a time in their lives when they should have been playing with dolls and singing playground rhymes. These were girls who were robbed the opportunity to dream of finishing grammar school, much less of going to college. Often it was their own families who sold their innocence. I met young women there who left work in the fields for jobs in the city, but the only job they could find was waiting tables at bars, and they'd never make a living wage unless they were willing to sell themselves along with the alcohol they served. 

And I have been to Guatemala, where I heard stories of women who wanted to give their daughters an education because when they were young, going to school meant hiding it from their own fathers or risk punishment. Because school was only for boy children. And I have heard stories about husband who cast their wives aside when they could no longer bear children. Like a rundown vehicle left to rot when men decide to find a newer, younger model to give them heirs.

The young women I met in Guatemala with World Vision knew the value of their education. As they headed to their job each day teaching music, they thought of their peers who became pregnant teens, never finishing school or pursing a career of their own.

I have meet children on the streets of both these countries selling pencils and bracelets and pamphlets. Children who should have been in school, but were on the streets begging, likely not of their volition. Because school there is only offered to those who can foot the bill, and when you can barely feed your child, you can't pay for school either.   

But you don't have to get a stamp in your passport to see women struggling to get by. Here, and wherever it is that you live, they are on the streets, or living in tent cities in the woods, or working dead-end jobs and barely getting by. They are being paid less than their male peers at whatever job it is they do. They are raising children alone. They are furloughed because of the government shutdown. Wondering if they'll get back to work, this week, this month, or even this year.   

Today is the Day of the Girl.

Have you seen the video of Jon Stewart's interview with Malala Yousafzai? Ms. Yousafzai is the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She has important things to say about education.

"It's part of our human nature that we don't learn the importance of anything until it's snatched from our hands." - Malala Yousafzai

Watch this video if you haven't seen it yet.

Ms. Yousafzai is an inspiration. But we don't have to stand up to the Taliban to find inspiring women. They are our neighbors. Our friends. Our mothers. Our aunts. Our grandmothers.

My grandmother, Shelby Mayes Spears, had only a 9th grade education when she became a war widow at 28, with three children. She went on to get her GED and nursing degree.

She raised my mother, Karen Spears Zacharias, who not only graduated from high school, but college too, and went back to school while raising four children. I remember when she started her first journalism job at 40. Since then, and it hasn't been long, she has written half a dozen books, and her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, CNN, the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and the list goes on.

And it was my mother who raised me. Some of my earliest memories are of my mama saying, "Promise me you will go to school, Shelby Dee. Promise me, you will get an education." I promise, Mama. That's what I'd say. And I did.

Education is important. Especially for girls. Education is a powerful tool. It changes lives.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every person, including every girl, could go to school and get an education? It can happen. And it starts with us. Each one of us. Valuing what we have before it's snatched from our hands.
Today is International Day of the Girl. What are you going to do about it?

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  1. Powerful post Miz Shelby. You have given us a challenge. My kids have been the ones to inspire me with their pursuit of their degrees. I am shamed to admit that I don't have mine. I am proud of your Mama and your Grandma for inspiring you!

    1. There is no shame in all that you have accomplished and succeeded in, degree or not. And I think your children are a testament to that. You have encouraged them and support them, and all of us. You are an inspiration as well!