These are the voices of our future leaders. Dechen, Pahima, Hakima, Nimanthi, Jeena, Anh, Kalpana, Jesmin, Kelzang, Meher, and Israt are students of the Asian University for Women (AUW), the first women's liberal arts college in Asia. They come from all over South East Asia, speaking different languages and celebrating varying religions. So what is the common thread that weaves together their vastly diverging experiences? It's more than the fact that these women have courageously dove into a liberal arts education on a continent whose educational system is known for promoting rote memorization.
These women wake up everyday with a passion to make a difference for themselves, families, and cultures. Each sees her own education as a fundamental step towards acquiring the tools to make that difference.
As someone who had the privilege of working with these women on a daily basis, I know them to be the on-the-ground warriors of the Half the Sky Movement. Simply put, these women are my heroes and inspire me to be the best person I can be. I hope their voices help humanize some of the issues they confront on a daily basis and give you insight into their worlds. When students were asked via social media to share their voices and daily motivations to go to University, these were their responses.
When I see begging street children, my life feels like an unbalanced equation. If they were given the opportunity to study, they would be as intelligent as me. When I notice how underprivileged they are, I want to balance some peoples' lifestyles. Sometimes I have sorrowful feelings deep inside my heart when I see those poor kids. This feeling has made me help my society. My parents and teachers were there to give me their hands when I was about to fall. Because of their help I did not. So, it is time for me to give my hand to someone else, to stand by their feet. Thus, I am eagerly waiting to work for my society, as I know that offering my hand will make someone else's life successful.
-Dakshini Nimanthi, Sri Lanka
When I was in primary school, my mom taught me a poem by a national poet, a poem including the line,
"how will it be morning Mother, if we do not rise up?
the darkness of night will disappear as long as your child(son) gets up"
I always remember these few lines. Each morning when I get up and look at the wide sky, I feel it's my day to do something positive and innovative. I strongly believe that it is me who should take the initiative without waiting for other's to act.
- Jeena Ferdaus, Bangladesh
In Vietnam, I went to school for knowledge and a chance to enter the job market. In other words, I went to school, because it was my duty. I know that I am luckier than girls born in places where their actions and speeches are limited. I hope that they will have a chance to enter the higher education system as I am right now, and this will happen if more people in society support them.
- Anh Nguyen, Vietnam
Why am I empowered? It is my great opportunity to be here at the AUW, getting a way out to present who I am, finding myself in the diverse cultures of students from diverse countries. I am empowered to see the unseen injustices around me, hear the unheard voices of violence and discrimination, and speak up against such oppressive natures. I am empowered so that I can speak not just for myself, but also to empower others.
-Kalpana Bhattari, Nepal