Luckier.

I’d seen mention of Half The Sky on Twitter, but only had a vague recognition of what it was. Something to do with women or education or something? I’m not even sure if I follow Nicholas Kristof on Twitter. The other night, scrolling through the cable guide, I saw the listing for Half The Sky, glanced at the description: Women and girls across the globe face threats — trafficking, prostitution, violence, discrimination — every day of their lives.” And kept scrolling. 

I didn’t want to watch this. I didn’t really want to think about these problems that were not within my power to solve or fix. I didn’t want to watch this depressing thing. After all, I know already. I know that bad things happen to women all over the world. Why do I need to watch this documentary? It’s not like I was going to do anything about it. 

But then I felt a sense of embarrassment and shame. How could I allow myself to avoid this confrontation of facts, reality, stories? As a woman, as a mother, as a wife. As Sheryl WuDunn says in the documentary, women all over the world, even right here in America, suffer from violence and discrimination. So, I scrolled back up and tuned in, bracing myself. The stories were sad, yes but they were also imbued with hope, the women so inspiring and good-spirited despite all the bad and downright horrific experiences they lived and still live through. 

What makes people, never mind women, so brave? So strong? I pay lip-service to plenty of causes but I don’t take action. Every once in a while, I make a donation. It assuages my guilt… a little. I don’t really need to do deep self-analysis to understand what holds me back from action. It’s fear, on different levels. It’s the fear of discomfort. It’s the fear of jeopardizing my safety or my family’s safety.    What separates me from a brave soul is the sense of urgency and desperation. No matter what else is going on in the world, I have my warm, safe home. I have a loving family. I have food in my fridge. I mean, I have a fridge. I have access to money and capital. Like Nicholas Kristof points out, I am luckier

The women profiled in Half The Sky are in the thick of it.  The need is immediate, apparent and life-threatening in ways that most of us cannot imagine, even if you think you can. It is hard for me to fathom circumstances so dire that I would risk life and limb to change those circumstances for myself, for my children, for other women. The common theme woven through these stories is education. It has been shown, time and time again, that educating women and girls helps not just their own economic situations and quality of life, but their countries as well. Women who are part of the economy uplift the economy as a whole, in these countries. 

There are quite a few organizations out there that help empower girls and women in Africa through education, but I happen to be friends with the President of the Board at Pathways Togo, so I’ve reached out to her, offering my time and energy to their cause. I’m excited to become involved, in whatever capacity I’m able. 

Pathways Togo was born out of a scholarship fund created in memory of a Peace Corps volunteer who suffered a fatal accident while serving in Togo. Pathways grants scholarships that help girls cover the cost of schooling, uniforms and supplies. A girl who attends school becomes a mother who insists that her own daughters attend school, and from one generation to the next, education becomes a cultural value, not just a luxury afforded to a lucky few.  In addition to this financial support, Pathways provides mentoring to help recipients work through the common obstacles to completing their education, such as the pressure to marry young or even something as simple as finding a place to study at night.
Despite the South Bronx being a world away from Togo, the similarities between my students and these Togolese girls are striking. The students I taught in the South Bronx often had obligations and cultural values that conflicted with their schooling. Many of them worked long hours after school, or had no suitable place to study and do homework. Some of them were pressured by gangs to drop out of school. A lot of them came from a culture where working to provide for a family was a priority over getting a diploma. For someone like me, the connection between education and future earnings seem obvious but when money needs to earned RIGHT NOW, investing time in school doesn’t offer quick enough gratification. 

The issues are different but the theme is the same: education uplifts a people. (Please don’t be surprised that I’m about to quote Paulo Freire. I did go to NYU School of Ed, after all!) 

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” 

{That Paulo Freire link is an IndieBound affiliate link. This means, if you buy the book using my link, I get a cut.}

3 thoughts on “Luckier.

  1. WambuaMom says:

    Nancy: I love you. Very well stated. And thank you for the shout out for our Togolese sisters.

    Marysa Wambua, President of the Board of Directors, Pathways Togo
    Educating Women. Empowering the World.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So much in this piece resonates with me. As someone who works as a service provider in the South Bronx and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, I think the comparison is very relevant. Giving young people the tools they need to open doors is essential anywhere there's a deficit of hope. Education is the key to overcoming inter-generational poverty.

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