Obamas and voices of global youth heard at launch of Let Girls Learn

Picture: Neil Brandvold

Getting every girl into school around the world is a huge task and one that cannot be done by one group alone. It will take the concerted efforts of all kinds of people – from world leaders to young advocates.

And that’s exactly what happened when Barack and Michelle Obama were joined by education experts and representatives of A World at School at the launch of the Let Girls Learn initiative. The President and First Lady of the United States announced they are expanding their efforts to help girls across the world go to school and stay there.

A World at School’s 500 Global Youth Ambassadors are working on the ground in 85 countries to bring about lasting change in their communities. They know better than most the barriers that prevent girls – and boys – going to school, including child labour, child marriage and discrimination. And their demand for action has resulted in the #UpForSchool Petition, which calls on world leaders to keep their promise to provide education for all.

At the Let Girls Learn launch yesterday at the White House in Washington, DC, these voices from across the globe were represented by A World at School’s Chernor Bah and Dawnique Shury.

Dawnique said: “Growing up in Guyana and sitting feet away from the president of the most powerful economy indicate we are all on an assignment – mine is to ensure every child has access to a quality education.”

She was invigorated by President Obama’s comment that “every girl on this planet deserves to be treated with dignity and equality – and that includes the chance to develop her mind and her talents”. Dawnique had already taken part in a roundtable meeting last year with the First Lady and other education experts, including Justin van Fleet, Chief of Staff to the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. 

Mrs Obama told the Let Girls Learn launch: “I’ve seen time and again how our young people – particularly our girls – are so often pushed to the very bottom of their societies. Everywhere I go, I meet these girls and they are so fiercely intelligent and hungry to make something of themselves. These girls are our change-makers – our future doctors and teachers and entrepreneurs. They’re our dreamers and our visionaries who could change the world as we know it.”

She also paid tribute to the many people she had consulted about girls and education, saying: “Time and again, you have told me that whatever these obstacles these girls face – whether it’s school fees or violence or cultural beliefs that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education – you’ve said that these problems will not be fixed from on high, that these are community challenges that call for community solutions.”

Dawnique meets actress Keshia Knight Pulliam at the event

After the event Dawnique said: “I leaped with joy knowing I played a very small part in a larger movement. There’s no greater accomplishment, no greater place to be than among those who are creating lasting change.

“There’s a sense of renewed hope and childlike tenacity I will take with me to ensure each community, village and child is a part of a space where learning occurs.”

Chernor didn’t hide his emotions either as he tweeted this:

Let Girls Learn is a collaboration between Mrs Obama and the Peace Corps to expand access to education for adolescent girls around the world. It will start in 11 countries and will build on the investments and progress that the US government has made in global primary school education.

It aims to elevate existing programmes and public-private partnerships, build additional partnerships and challenge organisations and governments to commit resources to help adolescent girls get into school and learn.

A key part of Let Girls Learn will be to encourage and support community-led solutions – of the kind being done by A World at School’s Global Youth Ambassadors – to eliminate the barriers that prevent girls from completing their education. The Peace Corps will train thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of community leaders; collaborate with local leaders to identify community-based solutions; and recruit, train and place hundreds of additional volunteers.

The Safe School Initiative efforts in Pakistan and Nigeria were highlighted as examples of an existing partnership with bilateral and multilateral partners that is aiming to Let Girls Learn.

In Nigeria, a Safe Schools Initiative was set up by Mr Brown, A World at School and the Global Business Coalition for Education. It was launched in response to the growing number of attacks on school children, including the kidnapping of more than 200 girls in Chibok. The US government donated $2 million to support the programme, which aims to meet the educational needs of thousands of children affected by the ongoing conflict in northeast Nigeria, specifically in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states.

In Pakistan, USAID supports the Safe Schools Initiative with $4.6 million. Last month A World at School launched a 15-point plan for the Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative – backed fully by Mr Brown and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif –  in a multimillion-dollar campaign for girls’ and boys’ education. It follows hundreds of attacks on schools in recent years and the massacre of children by the Pakistani Taliban at a school in Peshawar in December.

Learn more about the initiative at the Let Girls Learn website.