I’m writing on behalf of a girl I once knew. She loved going to school. Her neatly braided hair bounced up and down through the corridors of our flat in India as she begged me to quiz her on the ABCs.
She was brought from her village to the big city to help my grandmother around the home. She was the first in her family to be given an opportunity that could change her life: an education.
She savored it. Dutifully, she’d finish her chores and retire to the bedroom where she’d memorize her multiplication tables. “Three twos are six, three threes are nine, four threes are twelve … .”
She wasn’t of blood relation to me, yet she was the younger sister I never had. I, this modern young woman from America who sporadically appeared in and out of her world from a distant land that couldn’t seem real, fascinated her. She’d follow me around and, when I caught her looking at me, she’d giggle and sheepishly run away.
After my grandmother passed away, her world changed without warning. Her parents pulled her out of school and returned with her to their village to be married. She begged that she loved school and wanted to be a doctor, but it was too late; the marriage had already been arranged.
Her little dowry was worth more than her childhood, more than the notion that a girl could do something of value in the world. The decision was simply not hers to make.
I don’t know where she lives now, or how many kids she may have, but I do know how much she loved learning. I’m writing for her and the “250 million girls and boys – nearly 40 percent of the world’s children of primary school age – that can’t read a single sentence, write, or count.”
I’m the lucky one. I live in the United States. My parents are immigrants from India who believe in education.
Here I am now, a doctor of pharmacy, preparing to live out of a backpack for the next year while I travel the world and volunteer in different countries. I hope to give back a fraction of what I was given: a chance to make my life whatever I desire. How can it be that, in our modern era, almost half of the children in the world don’t have this fundamental right?
We can level the playing field.
The United States allocates less than 1 percent of its budget to foreign aid, part of which goes for education. The best use for this aid is keeping our commitment to the Global Partnership for Education, the only international organization exclusively dedicated to ensuring that all children have access to a quality education.
It brings together international donors, the private sector and community groups in a powerful coalition.
Experts agree that education is the cornerstone of peace and progress. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson argued that support for public education in the developing world is the best way to counter extremism.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, “education is a prerequisite for economic growth: no country has achieved continuous growth without at least 40 percent literacy.”
Every $1 invested in a person’s education yields $10-15 in economic benefit over that person’s working lifetime. As countries prosper, they become better trade partners – currently, 50 percent of U.S. exports are purchased by developing nations.
Education for girls yields particular benefits: healthier children, better crops, less HIV/AIDS.
The Global Partnership for Education has a funding conference next month. Congress must allocate our “fair share” contribution of $125 million each year for the next two years.
I know it’s too late for my friend in India, but there are millions of children like her who dream of school. We can give them a hand by supporting the partnership’s call for a quality education for all children, no matter where they are born.
Albuquerque Results is an organization aimed at eradicating hunger and poverty worldwide.