"I speak not for myself but for those without voice, those who have fought for their rights, their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, and their right to be educated."
— Malala Yousafzai
Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai captured our hearts and minds this past year as she fought for her life after being shot in the face by the Taliban for standing up to promote the education of girls. Hers is a very powerful story of the struggle tied to girls' education around the world, and her remarkable appearance at the United Nations on her 16th birthday made her an ambassador and role model for girls everywhere and their right to education. The world needs more people like Malala, brave enough to stand up and speak out.
Sadly, we have yet another example of the critical state of girls' education globally. On the night of April 14, 276 girls were kidnapped at gunpoint from the dormitory of Chibok Government Secondary School, a boarding school for girls in rural Nigeria, by Boko Haram terrorists, who believe Western-style education is a sin. All 276 are still missing. As reported by the New York Times, "These girls, ages 15 to 18, Christians and Muslims alike, knew the risks of seeking an education." Another dozen courageous Nigerian schoolgirls were taken this week. All are facing an uncertain future and the possibility that they will be sold to militants as "wives" for $12 apiece.
On Tuesday, the U.S. offered to provide a team of experts to assist in the girls' recovery, and all 20 female U.S. senators, led by Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for tougher international sanctions against Boko Haram.
As a lifelong educator and, for the past 22 years, the head of Roland Park Country School (RPCS) — a college preparatory school for girls in Kindergarten through grade 12, with a preschool for girls and boys — this tragedy and all it represents deeply troubles me. These girls, like our girls, have their own aspirations, and they also represent the hopes and dreams of their parents. They were expected to have careers as teachers or doctors. Their lives matter as much as the lives of the girls at RPCS. We need to recognize that girls anywhere on this planet matter.
With over 66 million girls growing up without an education, and studies showing that educating girls improves the quality of life for families and can break cycles of poverty, the world must respond loudly. According to Girl Rising, a global campaign for girls' education, "Educated girls stand up for their rights, marry and have children later [not in their early teenage years], educate their own children and thus their families, and communities thrive."
Many times in our lives we feel frustrated because we think our voices are not heard. Today we must give voice to these young women who have been silenced by the ignorance and hatred of cowards who may fear the life-altering changes that educating girls will allow. As I often talk to our students about self-advocacy, I am now compelled to encourage collective advocacy. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." RPCS will use its social media platforms to continue to promote the Bring Back Our Girls message, and we will join with the National Coalition of Girls' Schools to take action.
I strongly urge all of our political and religious world leaders to use their influence to demand that these girls be found and returned safely to their families and their schools. As their Nigerian mothers march in the capital Abuja wearing red, all of the Reds at RPCS will join in solidarity. Red is our school color, and to us it represents spirit, power, compassion and love. We will hold a Wear Red Day on Friday to share our strength. Our students will be advocates for their Nigerian sisters. Also, on our Fisher Field, 276 students in the Middle and Upper Schools will be photographed as they are encircled by the remaining students who will link arms in the Reds Circle of Love.
Our thoughts continue to be with the girls and their families at this unimaginable time. And we pray for their safe return. #bringbackourgirls
Jean Waller Brune is head of the Roland Park Country School. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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