On my final trip overseas as first lady, I visited a high school in Unification Town, a small village outside Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. I sat in a classroom where the only light came from the cloudy, rainy sky. As heavier clouds rolled in, the entire room dimmed, and I began to find it difficult to make out faces.
What I remember most from that day, though, couldn’t be more clear: It’s the promise inside each of those girls — girls who show up every day to learn. They show up even after walking for miles or waking up early to earn some extra money to help pay their school fees.
They show up even though their families depend on them to take care of younger siblings, cook, and ensure their household is running smoothly. They show up even though many are pressured to marry as adolescents, sidetracking their own goals for a man’s.
The girls in that school are joined by millions of others who aren’t able to get an education at all – today, more than 98 million adolescent girls around the world are not in school. The reasons for this are many, including scarce resources, early pregnancies, dangerous commutes and violence.
Equally pernicious is something they’re taught from an early age – the belief that because they’re girls, they’re unworthy of an education. It’s the same toxic mindset that keeps girls in the United States from believing they can become computer scientists or CEOs. And it’s a mindset that together, we’ve got to change.
That’s why today, on the International Day of the Girl, I’m proud to announce the Obama Foundation’s launch of the Global Girls Alliance. We’re seeking to empower adolescent girls around the world through education, so that they can support their families, communities and countries.
The evidence is clear. Girls who attend secondary school earn higher salaries, have lower infant and maternal mortality rates, and are less likely to contract malaria and HIV. And studies have shown that educating girls isn’t just good for the girls, it’s good for all of us.
With the Global Girls Alliance, we’ll lift up the grassroots leaders in communities all over the world who are clearing hurdles that too many girls face. These are offering scholarships, launching mentorship programmes, preparing girls to become entrepreneurs, and reaching out to parents so girls are supported not just at school, but at home as well.
And because of the outstanding work that’s been done for years by so many international organisations, the Global Girls Alliance is focused not on duplicating efforts or competing for resources, but on collaborating within the sector and building capacity. Our work is to empower those working on the ground to support these girls.
First, we’ll connect organisations and grassroots leaders to each other, allowing them to hear about what’s working elsewhere, to learn from one another, and, in turn, to achieve more together than they could on their own.
Second, we’re working to connect these leaders directly to people like you. We’ve instituted a process to identify projects that need support, so whether you’re giving a portion of your paycheck or a dollar from a lemonade stand, we don’t take it lightly that you’re donating your hard-earned money to this cause.
Finally, we’re looking for everyone’s help.Believe me, one person can make a difference here. And together, who knows what we can accomplish.
As one girl told me that day in Unification Town, “If we are educated, the nation will be educated.” Those words are true for her, they’re for her nation, and they’re true for all of us: The future of our world is only as bright as the future of our girls. —The writer is a former First Lady of the United States