Did you know there are currently 77.6 million girls not enrolled in either primary or secondary education across the globe? Or how about the fact that 2/3 of all illiterate adults (774 BILLION ADULTS) are women? What about that the number one cause of death for girls 15-19 is childbirth? One more thing: every year 14 million girls are married as children, denying their rights to their own childhood and the hope of an opportunist life.
In this world, talent is universal. Opportunity is not.
Well, wanna know what a little bit of knowledge can do for those staggering statistics? Just one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by up to 20%. With secondary schooling, a girl in the developing world marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by 2/3, saving 98,000 lives. Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school.
Last fall, I stepped back onto my university’s campus with a revitalized appreciation for the opportunity to receive an education. In July of 2013, I was honored to represent the University of Missouri amongst 12 other collegiate sorority women (and two alumna members) in Dakar, Senegal. On behalf of the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation, our team broke ground on a school that
would provide is providing the children of N’doffane Boure access to a quality education.
This journey all started with a little book titled ‘Half the Sky‘. The book, written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a compilation of stories addressing the central moral challenge of our generation – to end the oppression of women and girls worldwide. The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation was created when a college-educated sorority woman stumbled across an 2009 Oprah interview with said authors. Ginny Carroll, founder and Executive Director of Circle of Sisterhood Circle, saw this moral challenge as a chance to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. By encouraging sorority women to work together for their less fortunate sisters in the world, she had no doubt transformation would commence – and by golly, was she right.
Circle of Sisterhood has now made an impact in 17 countries and on 4 continents since its founding in 2010…and might I add: HAS NOW FUNDED 2 SCHOOLS (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) in which young girls (and boys) are learning and thriving alongside encouraging teachers and mentors. The schools have been constructed through a partnership with buildOn, an organization whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. Through a school building methodology that focuses on gender equality, buildOn ensures that at least 50% of the students enrolled in the schools will be girls and that each village makes a promise to send their daughters to school in equal numbers with their sons.
1 year, 4 months, and 18 days later, and I still remember the exact moment I found out I would be traveling to Senegal with Ginny and the rest of the team. As a member of the Panhellenic Council for the Mizzou Greek system, I had become involved with the foundation through the encouragement of our staff. The night before our advisors informed us there was a spot available on Trek, the council had brought Ginny Carroll to speak to our community about Circle of Sisterhood. It was truly a beautiful sight to see our student union filled to the brim with women eager to listen to the issues involving the education crisis and what they could do to promote change. That next morning, the council was asked to arrive to our weekly meeting about an hour early – frantic and confused, but mostly groggy, we did as we were told. Long story short, our advisors sat us down in the office and told us a woman from the University of Missouri would be headed to Senegal to break ground on Circle of Sisterhood’s first school…and it would be one of us. All seven council members, including myself, were at a loss for words.
From the second I stepped off our rugged 4-hour bus ride onto the soil of N’doffane Boure, I was changed irrevocably. The joy I saw in each and every child eager to surround these strangers they would soon call family filled my eyes with tears and my heart with bliss. Over the course of a week, our trek team worked together with the community to break ground on their school by hand – all with one common goal in mind: education. An education for their children and grandchildren. An opportunity to learn what it means to live a healthy life. A school wasn’t just 4 walls and a roof to this family of villagers, it was a glimpse of hope that someday future generations of girls and women would be able escape this continuous cycle of poverty and oppression.
Our time in the village was not solely spent pickaxing and brick-building, though. There were days spent conversing with the women of the village, learning about their struggles and triumphs within the community – how they dreamt of a life where being a mother also meant being a leader; a life where a woman was not a slave to the household, but rather an asset to the society. There were nights spent listening to the Chief speak on the customs of the village and his commitment to better the lives of those he served. (Mind you, I spent this night sneaking out of the circle to vomit behind a fence multiple times – so here’s to you, Chief, sorry I interrupted your moment with us.) Most importantly, though, our time in the village was entirely spent modeling the image of strong, driven women, eager to provide a quality education for generations to come. In return, the women surrounding me in that village made a commitment to do everything in their power to remove educational barriers for girls and women facing oppression – whether that be in Columbia, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; or even Senegal, Africa.
When I would hit the snooze button for an 8 am class, or gripe to my classmates about an upcoming test, I would see the faces of N’doffane Boure and immediately be brought back to a state of appreciation for those very instances. My trip to Senegal in 2013 was an experience that reminded me how fortunate I was to be supported academically by those around me not only each day I stepped foot on my campus, but any time I called home for encouragement or spent an evening studying in our student union with a group of my peers. It reminded me how incredibly blessed I was to attend an institution that not only provided me with a quality education, but was (and is still) bursting at the seams with faculty and alumni that are passionate about tapping into the talent embedded in each and every student there.
The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation and my involvement with the cause has immensely shaped my outlook on life and ignited my passion for education, both domestically and internationally. It has been a catalyst to my future career and an inspiration to always appreciate what I am given in life. Ginny Carroll has served as role model to thousands of women across the nation and has made an immense impact on who I am today. Her ability to transform a group of sorority women into a nationwide movement is awe-inspiring and simply remarkable. I know I speak for anyone who has been graced with her presence, that I feel honored to have spent over a week with her, soaking in every ounce of her contagious passion and fervent joy.
What about you? Is there a certain organization or role model that has sparked a passion in your life or that has been a catalyst for your future? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them!
And don’t forget there are many ways that you, too, can join the movement to end the oppression of women and girls worldwide – you can tweet along with the best of ’em, check out CofS’ facebook, simply get educated, or even donate to the cause and help remove educational barriers across the globe.
Until next time, my friends – hope you enjoyed this ‘trek’ down memory lane as much as I did!
*facts used in this post were soured from UNESCO, World Health Organization, UNICEF & UN Population Fund