Every time I look at this photo, my heart turns inside out. I miss this little bit. She's three. She doesn't say much, but she likes to hold my hand and sit in my lap while just staring at me. While sitting on the grass watching the women play netball, Robyn and I find ourselves encircled by children. I give up trying to watch the game and look down to find this little bit of a child crawling into my lap with a giant, if not mischievous, smile.
She melts my heart right then and there. Her tiny hand grabs two of my fingers and her other hand fiddles with my bracelet. She never takes her eyes off me. When I smile, she doubles over with laughter. My heart feels like it's expanding in my chest with the intention of holding her firmly in its grasp, to shield her from anything that would wipe that smile off her face. I don't want anything to ever hurt her, make her cry, or deprive her of anything.
We find a mutual reassurance in holding hands and she trails slightly behind me as we walk through Buyobo, our natural strides compromised as we try to walk in sync.
She follows me into three new classrooms that have recently been constructed. Animals are painted onto the walls of one classroom. I point at one animal. "Crocodile." She giggles. "Crocodile." I'm delighted by her mimicry. "Bird," I point to a large, white bird. "Biiiirrrrd" she shrieks backs. Suddenly there are five or six children circled around me, echoing the English words I give them. "Water, tree, fish, sun, sky" They shout back the words at me and their thirst for knowledge makes me hungry to teach them, to pour anything I can into their open hands. Their curiosity and enthusiasm is infectious, and it's frustrating to reflect on the number of children who do not have access to the education they deserve.
Every child, every individual, has a right to education and to the opportunity to empower themselves and their communities with the resources necessary to defend themselves from the onslaught of disease, corruption, dubious ethics, unprincipled economics, well-meaning but ineffective foreign aid, and unscrupulous laws. There is so much wrong in the world, and so many suggestions on the where, why, and how of what went wrong. I am reluctant to oversimplify the myriad of complexities that contribute to poverty's entangling web, but I feel strongly about the role education plays in shaking loose its fetters. One's access to financial resources should never dictate the level and quality of education one receives, not in Uganda, not in the U.S., not anywhere.
This is why I smile when almost every single woman we speak with in Buyobo informs us that being a WMI borrower has enabled them to help pay their children's school fees. More than one woman tells us that her child is now first in their class. When I think of my life and how privileged I am, the shining star in my memory is the level and caliber of education I received. Education yields change. There are so many components to breaking the cycle of poverty and there is no quick fix, but surrounded by children pulling at my clothes, reaching for my hand, eager to absorb my words and teach me theirs, I am struck by their curiosity. There are any number of academic theories on development and poverty and why children should remain in school. Running down a narrow path with a dozen laughing, happy little kids, those theories suddenly mean very little to me. The desire of these children to learn is enough to solidify my belief that it is also their right.
One World Children's Fund: An immeasurable impact November 21 2011
Ok, I admit it. I got a little teary-eyed at the One World Children’s Fund Annual Benefit Luncheon held in San Francisco last Friday.
But it’s not my fault.
When CNN hero Elena Durón Miranda started talking about her experiences working with children in Argentina, my eyes welled up with tears. It wasn’t just her stories; it was her sincerity and the earnest manner in which she told the audience that education is how we begin to break vicious cycles. Durón Miranda founded the organization P.E.T.I.S.O.S. after witnessing children in the town of Bariloche scavenging the landfills for food to eat and materials to sell. Horrified by what she saw, she decided to find a way to provide education and support to these children.
P.E.T.I.S.O.S. is one of the many community-based organizations supported by the One World Children’s Fund, an organization dedicated to helping the 120 million children without access to education, the 300 million children who don’t have enough to eat, and the 150 million children without homes. These numbers are staggering. Even one uneducated, hungry, or homeless child feels like one too many, but hundreds of millions?
One World was able to provide support to 15,000 children in the last year alone. These figures are important when discussing what’s been done and how much more there is to do, but the fundamental point is the point that Durón Miranda made when she said, “A number will never be able to explain the transformation of someone’s life.”
A transformation like the one Michealene Risley, a One World board member, described when she showed enormous strength and courage in telling her own story of abuse while talking about the struggles children around the world face because of sexual violence.
“I refused to let my life be defined by what happened to me,” she said as her voice rang out clear and strong across the hushed auditorium.
Risley then told the story of a beautiful little girl in Zimbabwe who had already faced the brutal and horrific experience of rape. She was two. My heart broke and I wanted to get up from the table and rush somewhere, anywhere, to shield the many thousands of children like her who are subjected daily to these terrifying and horrific experiences.
But not just to shield them. To also educate them, love them, and believe in them like Girls to Women, another One World community-based organization. A video clip showing a montage of little girls and young women announcing their intentions to go to Stanford to study formed a lump in my throat because I was so touched to see the one thing all of these girls had in common: they believed in themselves. Education and love had empowered them to see themselves in a different light, and that's not something that can be measured.
So if I got a little teary-eyed, it was two-fold. One because it breaks my heart to think of these kids out there trying to squeeze happiness out of the miserable situation they’ve been thrown into and two because it’s inspiring that there are people out there who do more than just stand on the sidelines with a broken heart. They reach out. They step forward. They DO something.
What’s so great about the One World Children’s Fund is that it enables individuals around the world to step forward in a myriad of ways. You don’t have to drop what you’re doing and fly halfway around the world to help. Currently supporting 28 projects in 16 countries, One World believes local people have a much better sense of how to solve the problems in their communities and is committed to providing support to volunteers in the U.S. to help fundraise, advocate, and support these existing community-based organizations. Wherever you are, you can support these projects and these children in many different ways.
At Greenlight Apparel, this is exactly the type of approach we support. We don’t believe in throwing money at the problem. We believe in educating and empowering people to stand up in the midst of a system that continually pushes them down. This is why our business model moves beyond just avoiding sweatshops and using environmentally sustainable production methods. We’re committed to supporting microfinance and education programs because…well, because they work.
One World recognizes this. An occasional handout is not what these children need. They need education and support. They need more than someone standing on the sidelines crying for them. They need someone like Durón Miranda to provide them an opportunity beyond scavenging in the landfill. They need people to believe in them.
To learn more about One World's projects and champions, visit their website at www.owcf.org
With all the technology available in the modern world, it can be hard to believe that there are still places without consistent access to electricity. But fewer than 25 percent of residents of rural African villages have power. For students, that means that sitting in a dark classroom without air conditioning, or under a tree, is the norm. Fortunately, that could change thanks to the debut of a solar-powered mobile school last week in Johannesburg.
The "school" is actually a 40-foot-long shipping container, which means it can be transported anywhere on the continent on a flatbed truck. Designed by Samsung as part of the company's social innovation efforts, the school comes fitted with foldaway solar panels that provide enough power to run the school's ventilation system, laptops, 3G wireless routers, electronic blackboard and mini-fridge for nearly two rain-soaked days.
After the traditional school day ends, the schools will be used as adult education classrooms and community centers so that entire villages can have access to education and the internet. The pilot solar school is currently being tested to ensure that it's a functional learning and teaching environment. If all goes well, the units will be mass-produced, transforming the educational opportunities of countless kids and their families.