The annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is one I look forward to every year. Every year, I connect with old friends and colleagues, find new ideas to take back to my school, and leave inspired and humbled by amazing speakers.
This year was no exception. Tererai Trent was the speaker, who I am sure, many people in schools will be talking about in the upcoming weeks. Dr. Trent spoke about the power of education to transform the destiny of individuals and of nations. She spoke of the teacher, the philanthropist and of her mother, who believed in her – and set her on her path to ferociously follow her dreams.
For those of us who work on behalf of girls, her message was especially poignant.
I have two daughters. I work in a girls’ school. The education of girls is of special significance to me. But in my world, educating girls is a given, not an often elusive prospect.
Dr. Trent grew up in Zimbabwe. Not allowed to attend school because she was a girl, a teacher advocated on her behalf to let her attend anyway. Within the year, at 11 years old, she had to halt her education because she was to be married. Her husband beat her savagely for wanting to learn – but Tererai never gave up. Still, she nourished in her mind her dream of going to America, of receiving a college degree, and eventually, a doctorate. She is a beacon of courage, of strength and of the deeply held belief that an education is the foundation of change. Her adage is simply: “It is achievable.”
But aside from the message of persistence and fearlessness in achieving one’s dream, Dr. Trent has another message for us. We, who are fortunate enough to live in a place where the education of girls is a given, a right, must find ways to help the millions of children, especially girls, who struggle to receive even basic schooling.
The issue has recently been brought to the forefront by great thinkers, by courageous women and by powerful advocates. Think of Malala, for example, who nearly paid with her life just this past year because she believed girls deserved to go to school the same way boys do. Think of Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, who grabbed our attention with their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Their voices are powerful reminders that the issue of educating girls is a human rights’ issue we are called to address.
This Friday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. In our school, we will mark the day with flowers for our students in honor of a tradition celebrated in Russia. Our youngest girls will enjoy a special snack. But most importantly, our Middle and Upper School girls will hear from Sheryl WuDunn herself. She will exhort our girls (and the adults who educate them) to care about the world in which we live – and to change it for the better. A tall order.
For Tererai, for Malala, and for all the girls who dream of going to school, we must find a way. If we persist, it is achievable.
Monday March, 4, 2013
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