“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats wrote that, and I believe it. As a journalist, I’ve seen it in schoolchildren around the world—on a dirt road in Zambia, where boys and girls emerged from the dust with inexplicably crisp uniforms and wide smiles; on a remote Indonesian island, where girls hugged their tattered notebooks to their chests as if they were made of gold; and in the most challenged school districts in our own country, where I’ve witnessed that moment when a spark lights and the future changes.
Teachers see this every day in the faces of their students, the hopes and dreams that an excellent education can bring. I suspect that’s why they do what they do. That’s definitely why my colleagues and I created Girl Rising, a film and global campaign for girls’ education.
Think about this: There are 66 million girls in this world who aren’t in school—and educating them is the simplest way to make the world a better place. The second part of that sentence is completely exhilarating.
The barriers to girls’ education in the developing world are complicated, no question—early and forced marriage, sexual violence, poverty, AIDS, tradition—but we know that if you educate girls, great things happen. Educated girls become women who marry later and have fewer and healthier children. They educate their own children, boys and girls. They stand up for their rights. Families and communities prosper, and economies grow.
That’s what Girl Rising is all about: spreading that message by telling stories. And it’s inspiring to see how the stories of the nine girls in the Girl Rising film have captured the imagination of audiences everywhere, and most especially young people. I’m struck—and amazed—each time I go to a screening by how the kids in the theater connect with the kids onscreen, even though they are continents and cultures apart. That’s what convinced us, in collaboration with the Pearson Foundation, to create a Girl Rising curriculum for schools.
Let me tell you about just one girl from the film. Senna—a warrior, her father called her—a 14-year-old who lives in the squalor of a mining town high in the Andes, where it snows year-round, where there are no sewers or paved roads, where almost everyone dies young, and where there are likely fewer girls in high school than in brothels. “There is no hope for me,” Senna’s dying father told her. “But there is for you. Study.” And study Senna did, discovering poetry amid the bleakness, and finding the fighter buried deep within her soul.
Senna and the other girls of Girl Rising represent millions of girls who also just want a chance to go to school and to thrive; who dream not of diamonds, but of classrooms. They are girls who, if educated, will change the world.
That’s why I hope you will join me and the Girl Rising community and, if you’re a teacher or school leader, bring the Girl Rising curriculum to your students. It’s a chance for them to be part of something big, to understand how they fit into this complex and interconnected world, and to become global citizens. To borrow a line my husband often used about TFA, it’s a chance for us all to feel the magnetic power of being part of the solution.
Kayce Freed Jennings is the co-founder of The Documentary Group and senior producer of Girl Rising. She spent many years at ABC News, based in London, Atlanta, and New York, and produced for all the major broadcasts. Kayce is a longtime friend and supporter of Teach For America, including sponsorship of the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership, named for her husband.