I was born in Fiji and I know firsthand what it is like having an extremely humble background, coming from a rural area and a minority community. My only “luck” was having an opportunity to go to school, and I absolutely loved it. I still love it today! Even when I was dreadfully sick, I never missed a day. I loved school so much, that I often competed with my friends who lived near the school to see who could be first to arrive. It so happened that I lived the furthest, but I always won. Nothing in the world would come between me and my school!
So it’s no secret that I loved going to school, but how I got there each year is the real story; a story of uncertainty that no child should have to face. A story that felt just short of a miracle every year.
I will never forget the days when I waited by the school gate for my mother to bring me the $5 school administration fees I needed for each school term. While primary school is free in Fiji, we needed to pay a supplementary school administration fee in order to go to school. I still remember sitting in fear with tears in my eyes by the school gate waiting for my mother. I watched the road for the bus, and with each bus that went by without my mother getting off, my heart would sink. I was paralyzed by fear because I did not want to be sent home.
Since then, I have never stopped believing in how far $5 can go in a poor girl’s life. My parents often could not afford to send all my siblings to school. I was the youngest, so that $5 fee needed to stay in school came last to me. I would worry every term that this time there wouldn’t be enough. That $5 represented my dreams, my happiness…and my future. Milk was a luxury we couldn’t afford, but somehow, my mother managed to feed us a diet that was basic and filling while saving every penny she could. She would travel a great distance each week to put what she had saved in a savings account to pay for our schooling. Having that $5 each term to stay in school changed my life.
My parents never used the word poor. I had never known of a new uniform or pair of shoes until I went to high school. I was usually oblivious of such things and it rarely crossed my mind that my things were not always new at the beginning of the school year. Maybe it was because so many of my friends were the same. My parents just wanted us to keep our heads down and study. I was happiest when I was in school, and for that matter, those memories still make me smile.
Having an education changed my entire world. I have worked in Australia, Europe and Africa, and now I live in New York. Education has enabled me to travel the world and has given me opportunities to work on issues that I am deeply passionate about. But above all education has allowed me not to be just a bystander or an observer; it has given me the opportunity, confidence and platform to be part of decision making, of leading initiatives and becoming a voice for social change and helping women. Education also opened the door for me so that I am not just a poor woman relying on others to help me lift myself or my community out of poverty. I am at the forefront of leading and working with my own peers to make the world a better place. I have led projects in conflict and development settings that include human rights, transitional justice, gender issues, sustainable development and human trafficking.
Having been one of the millions of poor girls facing the constant struggle to stay in school each term, I can say without hesitation - education indeed changed my life!
Ms. Praveen Prasad is a Global Champion for 10x10. She is the Development Director with TrustAfrica- a leading Pan-African Foundation that focuses on democracy, governance, and development. Ms. Prasad is the Co-Chair of the Woman Advancing Microfinance (WAM-NY), is on the committee for Inclusiveness and Diversity as well as a fellow with the Council on Foundations. She is also leading the Africa for Haiti coalition. Originally from the Fiji Islands she is also a national of Australia. She has worked for over 10 years in international relief, peace and justice, and development. Her field postings and experiences have included working in over 17 countries in Africa. Prior to being based in New York, Praveen was based in Sudan, DR Congo and Malawi overseeing multiple large-scale relief, peace building and development programs. She previously held positions with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations and with international NGOs. Currently, she is also leading the “Africa for Haiti” initiative. Praveen holds a master’s degree in Political Science and in International Relations. She is multilingual and in her spare time enjoys sports, writing, photography and exploring history of world cultures.