Women Rising

“I don’t want [my girl] to be like me, you know? I want her to have an education. To go to college.”

Girls are defined by more than just the number of years they spend in school. They have families, work, ideas, and dreams. But the amount of education they receive is often the key factor that determines whether they can pursue those dreams, voice their ideas, secure work they want, and raise healthy families—or not. With 32 million fewer girls than boys in primary school worldwide, girls are disproportionately denied this critical chance.

On February 21st, the English Learning Center, together with Minneapolis Council Member Abdi Warsame, hosted a special screening of excerpts from the film Girl Rising. This documentary follows girls from around the world, as they share how either the presence or lack of education has impacted their lives. The girls are inspiring, creative, and strong. For some, the path ahead looks hopeful. For others, it is fraught with danger.

At the close of the film, you don’t know where each particular girl will land. But if you step into the halls of the English Learning Center, you will get a glimpse of what could be. You will meet girls just like them, only all grown up. They come to us 10, 30, even 50 years older, but they are just as inspiring, creative, and strong. Many of them are finally claiming the education they desperately wanted as children but were refused.

Today, 84% percent of the students in our lowest level English class are women. At this level, the vast majority have never been to school—never learned to read, write, or even to hold a pencil. It is my favorite class to teach.

One of my first memories at the English Learning Center is teaching a woman in this class to write her own name. When she registered for school, she signed her intake form with a simple “x.” She was in her seventies, and her hands shook as she tried to grasp the pencil. I helped her carefully form each letter, and when she finished, she looked up at me with obvious pride. Finally. Finally, she could write her own name!

Others here will tell you they want to get an education for the sake of their daughters. One student recently revealed, “I don’t want [my girl] to be like me, you know? I want her to have an education. To go to college.” Simply by being in school herself, this student is doing a lot to help her daughter get there. In fact, the literacy level of a mother is the single greatest factor in determining the future academic success of her children.

In his speech on Friday, Council Member Warsame affirmed this truth: “I was one of 6 children raised by a single mother. She couldn’t speak a word of English. But, she was an educated woman, and she instilled in us the value of education.” That education has taken him far, and it can do the same for our students and their children. So if you want to invest in girls (and boys)—and in the future of our whole world—invest in their moms.