Passionate about education’s power, high school students Courtney Smith and Nikki Jande spent a week visiting our New York City office. Here, they reflect on their behind-the-scenes look at how we tackle the barriers girls face to education and what it means for their own future careers.

Courtney (pictured left) and Nikki (pictured right) are using their education to help break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and limited opportunities that youth face around the world.

Courtney Smith:

I, myself, am one of the lucky ones. My life has not been plagued by gender inequality, poverty, and violence. I have not fought an uphill battle in my society to be seen as worthy and my value as an individual has never been questioned. In September, without a doubt, I will begin another year of school where my mind will grow, my opinions will develop, and my ideas will be heard. I will not accept the fate of child marriage because I do not have to. I will not challenge my future of domestic slavery because I do not have to. But my privileges do not mean that I should, nor will I, accept these human rights abuses for other girls.

I will not allow another girl to be denied her right to an education simply on the basis of sex.

My passion for education is what some would call inevitable. My mother is a teacher and instilled in me and my sister from very young ages a curiosity for learning and uncovering the truth. I have always wanted to know why. When I met Uzma, my friend from Afghanistan, my passion for education suddenly shifted from merely a joy of learning to fighting for equal education rights. Uzma and I met after she arrived in the United States seeking a safe education away from the threat of the Taliban. Here, unlike back home, Uzma’s academic endeavours are encouraged and her thoughts valued. Hearing her personal stories and learning about the barriers female students face in Afghanistan sparked a fire within me. I was informed and could not ignore the global education crisis.

Courtney, at an event where she fundraised $2,000 of her $25,000 total towards a new school with Pencils of Promise

My journey to advocating for education rights began with my 16th birthday and the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. Like Girl Rising, PoP is dedicated to fighting the global education crisis by providing quality educational opportunities to every child. When I finally achieved my goal of $25,000 to build a PoP school, I knew that my journey was not over. After seeing the Girl Rising documentary I was immediately intrigued and inspired, unable to shake the feeling that I was meant to be a part of the solution.

These past few days shadowing the Campaign Manager at Girl Rising have not only been eye opening and informative, but have solidified my belief that I belong in the world of active social justice work. Education is a right. It is not a gift that only the fortunate receive, but an innate individual right. It is not longer acceptable to state ignorance as the excuse for silence. Girl Rising’s film has raised awareness about the issue and informed countless audiences about the positive effects of educating girls across the globe. An educated girl will end the cycle of poverty. She will raise educated children and avoid child marriage and gender based violence.

We live in a world today where there are so many unanswered questions. There are so many unknowns. But the one guarantee, the one undeniable truth is this: Educate Girls. Change the World.

Nikki Jande:

Girl Rising is a force that supports the education and empowerment of girls in order to break ongoing cycles of poverty. This movement advocates for millions of girls to advance themselves, their families, and their communities through further education. As a Girl Rising Ambassador, I work towards and believe in a global level of empowerment for girls. The impact a woman’s education can provide for a community is so great that the cycle of poverty can be eliminated in just one generation for a family that educates their girls.

I have worked towards creating awareness and furthering the Girl Rising movement through community movie screenings and informational booths, but most empowering and inspiring is that I Skype with teenage girls who live at the Udayan Ghar Care Orphanage in India through a community program called Mentors without Borders.

Nikki and her peers Skype with students in India through a program called Mentors without Borders

Talking with 3 teenage girls who experience an entirely different environment than me everyday, where when I go to school and have experienced mentors and support systems to help me through each social and educational step, they maintain their own discipline in studying and have to cope with the notion that after age 18 their ‘Ghar’ will not be able to support them, is a strongly motivating and eye-opening experience.

We discuss plans for the girls after they will complete high school, the possibility of a higher education, how to deal with success and failure, social mannerisms and how to succeed in an environment such as an office, and what kinds of traits and role models to look up to. However, I was later made aware that the three girls I was talking to were three of the most mannered and most capable English-wise from all the girls at the orphanage. Talking with these girls every Sunday and imagining their millions of less educated counterparts across the globe motivates me every day to advocate for the education of 62 million girls, all of whom are not in school.

As a Regional Ambassador, my motivation and work to spread awareness and build funds for girls’ education is ongoing. Ways in which I and many others can play a part in furthering the Girl Rising cause is to dedicate a birthday or graduation funds to GR, set up a local can and bottle collection day for friends, or create a bake sale. Simple endeavors can make such a great difference. Working at the Girl Rising office with the Campaign Manager the past week has only strengthened my belief that there is a global need to advocate for girls’ education. One girl with courage is a revolution.

62 million girls are out of school worldwide, but we believe progress is increasingly possible when young people speak up against this injustice.

Parting thoughts on the power of action:

Do you believe that you can be anything? Do anything? Accomplish anything? Is your fear of failure and disapproval more than your desire to achieve your dreams?

As two proactive, inspired young women, we challenge the social stigma that girls are inferior and less capable than boys. We believe that girls can in fact reach their full potentials and create lasting change through the power of education.

By refusing to accept the fate of poverty, child marriage, and gender based violence for the 62 millions girls lacking education, we hope to encourage and motivate other young women to stand against the tide.

Will you join us? Share on social media or start a conversation with your family about the importance of girls education. Consider doing a bake sale at your school or workplace and make sure to sign up for updates on Girl Rising’s progress!