As another school year starts up, I find myself slowly but surely falling back into the familiar routine that occupies August through May. This routine usually involves me groggily rolling out of bed after pressing snooze a few times on the alarm clock, attempting to make it to every possible sporting or social event, and staying up late to cram for a killer math test. As most privileged American teenagers, I sometimes think of school as a hassle rather than a blessing, as a requirement rather than an opportunity. The truth is, I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of my own little microscopic world that I, mistakenly, block out the 7 billion people sharing this Earth with me.
Just a pinch of sound logic is enough to realize that denying educational opportunities, justice, and equal rights to women oppresses approximately half of the world’s population. The oppression of women misuses the scarce resource that is human brainpower and vastly inhibits the possibility of prosperity for many developing nations. It’s an equation that does not add up. On the noble quest to end global poverty, we are casting aside the very individuals that experience it and could be empowered to contribute meaningfully to the solution.
Nelson Mandela defined education as a weapon that can change the world; education is the most important way to measure civilization and the progress of nations.
When I think back to my own year in Kindergarten, I remember a lot of fun stuff: learning letters and listening to stories, making collages, playing with my friends. It was pretty laidback. My daughter, on the other hand, was given long lists of words to memorize, time-consuming projects, and a ton of homework—more than any five-year-old should have to deal with. So when a homework assignment was too much, or a project too big, I’d do what any responsible parent would do. I’d crumple it up and throw it in the trash. “Go outside and have fun!” I’d say.
I’m privileged that I can do such a thing, I know. The only reason I could, quite literally, throw out some of my child’s education is because she was getting way more than she needed. She had a surplus of education at her disposal. It’s the same thing with water. I can forget to turn off the faucet while scrubbing dishes (though I try not to) because I have more water than I need.
For many people around the world, and in Niger specifically, water and education are tightly linked, and neither is something to be casually thrown away. Over 60% of people in rural Niger don’t have access to clean water. Those people must deal with the daily task of making multiple trips to a stream, a shallow well, or other water source, which is often filthy and often miles away.
It’s impossible not to feel outrage at what has happened in Nigeria: 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in mid-April, and the government has been ineffectual in getting them back. The international community is finally paying attention after Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau threatened to “sell them in the marketplace” as slaves or child brides.
These were girls, ripe with hope and striving to get an education, who risked their lives to come to school for one day to take an exam, despite the fact that many schools in their region had closed because of the Boko Haram threat.