October 11, is the day set by the United Nations to review the situation of girls around the world.
While I have taught girls and young women for most of my professional life, it was when I attended a conference in Montreal, Canada, that I was first jolted to the realisation that the experience of young women and girls in Derry, Ireland, and the USA was not the norm.
The keynote speaker was Roshni Unavar, head of the programme for sustainable development in Mumbai, India.
Roshni opened her remarks with this story: “The year was 1989. The city was Bangkok. A European businessman has bought a seven-year-old virgin for $250.
“The child becomes very frightened when left alone with the man. Because she will not do what he asks, he beats her up and leaves her for dead. The child is badly bruised and beaten on both the inside and out. I am that seven-year-old girl.”
Over the past 10 years I have heard numerous stories like this and so I set about the task of educating girls because I believe that education is the best chance we can give a girls to get her out of poverty.
When girls are provided with even the most basic education, statistics have proven that they develop skills needed to negotiate key life decisions.
When a girl has the opportunity to go to secondary school, this leads to healthier families, lower HIV infections and higher wages.
Educated girls are more likely to educate their children and so the cycle of illiteracy is broken in just one generation.
For the past seven years one local school has been prominent in assisting with the girls’ education campaign.
Thornhill College students have helped to build a school in Cambodia, refurbish a food kitchen in Kenya and provide scholarships for girls in South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Haiti and Sudan.
To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the college, Thornhill under the leadership of Miss Marguerite Hamilton has undertaken the job of working with me to build a school in Sudan.
In the spirit of Malala, the young Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for promoting the education of all children especially the girl-child, Thornhill College Girls have also spoken of their commitment to stand with Malala and all children living in poverty.
As one student wrote: “One voice did not quiver, yet prevailed against its biggest demon. One voice was silenced, yet spoke for millions.”