A BLOG POST BY WENCHI YU U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton often says, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” During my recent trip to a rural village in Nepal, I witnessed how a girl can have a hopeful future when given the opportunity to education.
Thanks to Room to Read, an international NGO that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education, I met a 12-year-old girl named Ranjana in the village of Malpi outside of Kathmandu. Ranjana receives a Room to Read scholarship to attend a private school.
After a few minutes of walk on a small muddy path, Ranjana greeted me in front of a simple hut with chicken and goats, and mountains of potatoes. I sat down with her, her mother, and several neighborhood village women came to see who I was. I learned that Ranjana’s mother, like all the other women surrounding us, is illiterate and makes less than $2 a day. Her father has gone off to work as a migrant worker in Qatar but never sends money home because he has to pay off the debt owed to the employment recruiting agency. Ranjana told me how much she likes going to school and her favorite subject is science. Asked what she would like to do when she grows up, she said she would like to become a doctor to help improve her family’s situation. Then tears started rolling down her small face. I was worried that I asked an inappropriate question. She shook her head and said she needs to study hard.
Yes, Ranjana has to study very hard to realize her dream. But at least she is given the opportunity to hope for a better future. Many girls like her do not even have the opportunity to dream, the audacity to hope.
According to Save the Children, two-thirds of the world's 880 million illiterate adults are women. More than 70 percent of the 125 million children who do not attend school are girls. Significantly more girls than boys drop out of primary school. More girls drop out of school to be married off at a young age, to help raise family, or to migrate to another place looking for a better opportunity. This remains a common phenomenon in many parts of the world.
That is why the international community needs to find innovative ways to elevate the value of girls, keep them in school, persuade their parents that giving girls education will be a smart investment for the family. And giving them a scholarship, books, or a reading room, needs to be widely replicated.
Before I left Ranjana, I encouraged her to study very hard so she can become a doctor. I secretly made a wish that her mother let her continue pursuing her dream. She just needs a chance.