I have been an advocate for access to education for many years in Haiti as I believe it truly empowers the children and all people in the country, so to learn about what is happening to the girls in Nigeria is horrific. I am saddened and troubled by the fact that, while we in North America live in a relatively safe environment, at the same time something so horrible such as the kidnapping of almost 200 schoolgirls can happen on the same planet. It's heart wrenching! We take our freedoms for granted so much over here while these injustices occur too often elsewhere. Yes, we do have our own troubles, but in comparison we live in a place where we are all free to go to school and not be attacked for doing so.
When I was last in Haiti, there were condoms all over the ground and kids were playing with them not fully understanding their use. Young girls get raped all the time there. A UN report in 2006 said half the women living in Port-au-Prince had been raped, and with so many people moving into makeshift tent camps after the 2010 earthquake, those numbers have skyrocketed: there are 20 times as many rapes in those camps than in the rest of country. There are horrific things happening all over the world, it is so wrong. We must do something to help.
The other day I was watching The Constant Gardener and there is a quote that moved me. One of the aid workers tried to evacuate an African child from her village under raid, and he was told there are thousands of children out there, they couldn't possibly rescue them all, and he replied, "Yes, but THIS is one we can help!" I feel that if we consider making a difference in even just one person's life than that is better than doing nothing. Here's how:
Speak up! Plan Canada has a petition you can sign to encourage the Canadian government to help bring back the Nigerian girls. All too often there exists misogyny in many parts of the world, even here at home. Look at Elliot Rodger's recent killing spree in California, which was motivated by anger towards women. There's a hashtag that has been seeding conversations about this: #yesallwomen. Many shocking and upsetting stories have come out of our own backyard via this thread and it isn't just a phrase tagged onto the end of a tweet. It has opened up a dialogue and these stories show that taking away women's rights happens way too often. So speak up! Do not be afraid to tell your stories, to defend the rights of your sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, girlfriends and yourself. This is something that needs to be heard.
Support the right to education everywhere. I honestly believe education is power, and educating boys AND girls is the key to ending a lot of violence and poverty everywhere. This is why I work with Artists for Peace and Justice in Haiti, building free schools, access to education is transformative. The Nigerian girls were just about to write their final exam when they were taken. They had been working hard towards their goal of making a difference in their communities and they knew educating themselves was the first step. It's so sad that something so terrible happened while they were working towards something so good. Education is so important, both here and in developing countries. APJ's free school in Haiti, the Academy for Peace and Justice, will help 3,000 kids once it reaches full capacity in 2016. And who knows what changes those educated boys and girls will go on to make in the lives of others!
Try not to take your own liberties for granted. We are all guilty of this from time to time, complaining about trivial things that some people could only dream of. Like wanting the latest handbag, to eat out at the newest restaurant, wondering why we aren't making as much money as our friends, on and on go the complaints. But when you look at North American women's lives in context of the Nigerian girls or of the Haitian children living in tent city slums, well, we have it pretty good. We are free to go to school and study what we choose, we are free to get jobs alongside men (although we do still suffer a pay difference, we are closing the gap), we are free to date whomever we choose and get married when (or IF) we want to, we are free to speak our minds and even free to vote! Sometimes it takes visiting other countries firsthand to witness the lack of freedoms to make you understand what you're taking for granted, like this Oprah.com writer's experience visiting her in-laws in Libya. I'm not trying to say we have it perfect over here. The California killings and the #yesallwomen dialogue show that we still have our problems, but we also have MANY liberties that we forget to appreciate.
Use your freedom to effect change. I think it's important that we don't take our liberties for granted but further than that, I think we should all try in some way to effect change in the world. We have the right to education in Canada and the USA, so go to school. Study. Learn. Keep learning. Advocate access to education for others. Volunteer with an organization, like Artists for Peace and Justice, that works towards bettering the lives of women and girls (as well as men and boys). We have freedom of speech, so speak out against injustice. We have the freedom to choose our life path, so work towards your goals with the same vigour, passion and dedication that the girls in Nigeria and the children in Haiti do. They keep studying, despite their fears and challenges. I find their bravery SO inspiring!
The most important part of the solution is the power of education. I truly believe this. Those 16 to 19-year-old Nigerian girls, who were taken by force on April 14th by a group of men who oppose Western-style learning, are still missing. Six weeks later, Nigerian officials finally know the girls' location but say that it's too dangerous to rescue them by force (in case some of the girls get hurt or killed in the fighting). What an unbelievable ordeal these young women have endured! This kidnapping and the devastation in Haiti is on such a large scale that it's hard to even fathom and seems overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to even START helping but it's important to contribute however you can. Because a little help from anyone will create a HUGE difference for everyone.
Last week, as the Canadian government pledged to continuing their investment in girls and women at their international convention on child and maternal health, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "We have much to be thankful for, and I believe out of our thankful hearts flows the desire to do what we can for those with less."
So let's all do one thing once a month that makes a difference in the life of another human being that is less fortunate than us. What will you do to change your world?