Want to change the world? Educate a girl.

2016 is almost over, and with it my reading challenges. Normally this is when I look at how I’ve done with the year’s reading, and gloat a bit about completing the challenges. But this year it’s different — this year, one of my challenges helped me find a new calling.

Let’s back up

A little over a year ago I was surfing around Netflix, looking for something to watch on a night when I had nothing else to do. In the documentary section I found Girl Rising. It follows nine girls living in places like Nepal, Cambodia, and Haiti as they stand up for their right to an education and freedom.

Girl Rising opened my eyes to some pretty horrifying statistics:

  • 65 million girls are out of school globally.
  • In a single year, an estimated 150 million girls were victims of sexual violence.
  • In developing countries, the number one cause of death for girls 15-19 is childbirth.

It made me so mad. I loved school so much, and couldn’t imagine how horrible it would have been to not be able to attend just because I was a girl. Everything I am is the result of what I have read and learned, and it infuriated me that so many girls were being left behind.

Especially when I learned things like:

  • A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult.
  • 10% fewer girls under the age of 17 would become pregnant in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia if they had a primary education.
  • If India enrolled 1% more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know where to start. I asked a friend of mine who works for Child Legacy International (they do some amazing things, please check them out!) if she knew of any organizations that focused on girls’ education.

That’s when I learned about Camfed. Their mission — to educate girls in some of the world’s poorest regions — is critical to making the world a better place for everyone.

But you know how it goes. You read an article or watch a documentary that gets you all fired up, you follow an organization on Twitter and you sign up for their newsletter…and then you never put your money where your mouth is. And that’s where this story almost ended.

First steps with the Charity Reading Challenge

In late 2015 I learned about the Charity Reading Challenge, in which participants pledge to donate a certain amount per book they read to the charity of their choice.

I liked the idea that my reading could help fund another girl’s education. So I pledged to donate $2 for every book I read in 2016 to Camfed. I signed up and started reading, glad that I’d found a way to give a little to a good cause.

But fate wasn’t done with me yet.

A heartbreaking email

In early September I got an email from Camfed that broke my heart.

Every September we face one of our most difficult decisions. We have to draw a line between the girls who will go to school and those who will not – we simply do not have the resources to help every child who needs support

We are facing a crisis that will condemn even more girls to a life of exclusion. A reduction in funding due to recent global uncertainty has pushed 3,500 more girls below that line.

I imagined what it would be like for those girls to hear that they wouldn’t be able to continue — or start — their education. What would it be like to see your brother head off to school while you have to stay home? What if not going to school meant being married off to a stranger because you are a burden on your family’s resources?

When I visited Camfed’s website, I read that $240 can send a girl to school for a full year.

$240. That’s less than my monthly car payment. I donated that night.

Since then I’ve imagined over and over someone from Camfed telling a girl in Ghana or Malawi or Tanzania or Zambia or Zimbabwe that she will be able to go to school this year. How did she react? What’s her name? Her favorite subject? What does she want to be when she grows up?

Then I remembered that the company I work for matches charitable donations — I’ve submitted that paperwork already, which means two girls get to go to school.

Just getting started

I’m still planning to donate $2 to Camfed for every book I read this year, but that won’t be the end of this adventure. I’ve found something that ignites my passion, that makes me want to participate in something bigger than myself.

I don’t know exactly what that participation looks like yet, but I do know that it includes others. If you’re passionate about girls’ education and empowerment, or think you could be, I encourage you to:

  • Read Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. Take at least one of the actions they list at the end.
  • Read more about Camfed and the other organizations Kristof and WuDunn describe.
  • Consider donating to Camfed so they can meet their goal of educating 1 million girls by 2020.

Today is Thanksgiving. This year I have more than ever to be thankful for. I’ve found a calling, a cause, and I hope you’ll join me in this fight.

Update: Donations from people in September and October got 343 more girls above the line and into school. So badass.

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