In case you somehow missed it or don't have the academic year
permanently emblazoned on your psyche, children are heading back to
school. Facebook is full of posts of my friends' children on their
first day, and they are adorable -- proud, exasperated, so much
more grown-up than last year. My nephew had this ridiculously
hilarious and nerdy statement in response to his parents walking
him to school for his first day of second grade: "Depart from
me or I shall become a laughingstock!"
In Kenya, Dorothea has been scraping together every bit of money
that she can. As the new school year, she needs to buy a new
uniform if her granddaughter, Dinah, is going to attend high
school. The regulation blouse, skirt, socks, and shoes cost far
more than Dorothea has left at the end of one month, or even six
The total price for Dinah to go back to school comes close to
$50. It seems impossible.
School attendance is a sacrifice of love and community in a
place like Kenya. Dorothea and her granddaughter have been getting
by on just one meal a day for the last few weeks to save a few
shillings. An empty belly in exchange for an education. Dorothea
has gathered small amounts of money from her two remaining adult
children, from her neighbors, from her pastor and her prayer group.
Money from anyone she can think to ask. Everyone is asking at this
time of year. School fees, school uniforms, books. Everyone comes
together to contribute what they can.
Dinah's parents both died in the past 18 months, and Dorothea
now holds Dinah's future in her hands. Hands with knuckles swollen
from arthritis and age and 60 years of cleaning houses count out
one crumpled small bill after another in the school uniform store,
praying that they will be enough. Enough to launch her
granddaughter into a future of promise.
What if $50 means that Dinah won't go to high school?
This story is echoed around the world. This is what
back-to-school looks like around the world: Mothers, fathers,
grandparents, communities making sacrifices to launch their
children into a better future. Everyone circles round to contribute
whatever they can, to fan the small flame of hope.
Investing in education - especially education for girls - is one
of the most effective ways to fight poverty. When you send girls to
school, economies change, women and children are more healthy, and
injustices start to be corrected.
Right now, more than 75 million school-aged children are not in
primary school (where they should be.) 75 percent of them live in
sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in places like Kenya.
Too many of these children are girls. One
in five eligible girls worldwide are not going to primary
It's easy for me to be very nostalgic about my (many) school
years. When I see the back-to-school sales for pens and crayons and
notebooks, when I see my friends' cutie pie children in their
uniforms, I get nostalgic. But the global back-to-school
needs go beyond nostalgia.
How can we open the doors so that more girls in poor places can
go to school at all? How can we help girls stay in school so that
families and communities and global economies can be