I have three teenage nieces Kennedy (whose portrait graces this week’s cover), Jordan, and Kayla. Beautiful girls. Smart girls. Creative. Witty. Quirky. Intelligent and Ambitious. Their faces flashed in my mind when I first heard the news of the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped from their school last month by the radical Boko Haram terrorist group in Chibok, a village in rural northern Nigeria. Like millions of people around the globe, I instantly felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for the innocent girls and their families and anger at the insolent act of evil perpetrated on them by the militant group and the subsequent inaction of the powerless Nigerian government.
The name Boko Haram translates to “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language spoken in that region of the country. The group demands the total practice of Sharia Law, the Islamic legal code, which groups like Human Rights Watch says creates an environment that considers women and girls chattel, objects to be owned, traded, and controlled. The terrorist group particularly opposes the education of women and repeatedly targets places of learning, a practice that highlights its fundamental philosophy against western education.
The schoolgirls represent not only a thriving Africa, but also symbolize an investment in our shared global future.
The need to continue to educate our girls both here in the States, in Africa, and throughout the world is why I agreed years ago to serve on the board of St. Carrie’s Center, a non-profit organization founded by Hemet resident Dr. Darleana McHenry, that promotes education as a human right which should be accessible to all persons. Dr. McHenry’s work through this organization spans five continents but primarily focuses on blended learning programs in the United States and Africa.
Our most recent St. Carrie’s Center proposal is an education project in Tanzania in partnership with Foundation DART an organization that already houses and educates forty girls. The proposed project is modeled after Dr. McHenry’s S.M.A.R.T. Academy, a successful program in Hemet that promotes sustainability and self-sufficiency by combining organic gardening and entrepreneurship.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, female empowerment and education is essential to building democratic societies and creating a foundation for sustained economic growth, and is a key strategy for reducing poverty. Since the news of the schoolgirls’ abduction spread across the globe primarily through social media and the hash tag campaign #Bring Back Our Girls, the international community has rallied to demand the return of the girls to their families, and the girls have become global symbols of the fight against terrorism and examples of the need to support the education of girls and women across the globe.
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