In a tiny village in Northern India, I met three gorgeous girls. Barely teenagers, they had that special sparkle in their eyes as most teenage girls do—with their whole lives ahead of them. But as I listened to them tell me the stories of their lives, I began to wonder just how they were able to sparkle. After very minimal schooling, they were sent to a factory to work during the prime years of their adolescent lives. For a solid three years they worked in the factory, day and night, without days off and very few visits back home. Instead of receiving an education, from which the boys in their village benefited, the girls were expected to work and earn money for their families. When asked if they were able to support their families on the income they earned from their labor, they looked at me with a flabbergasted expression: “But we have no idea how much we are earning! It is not us who are paid, but our fathers.”
It is in this very village that Week of Compassion, Global Ministries, and partner Foods Resource Bank supported long-term food security and water programs. Working with folks in the village to dig desperately needed wells for clean, accessible water and then to provide agricultural assistance and training, a community cooperative developed. After only a couple of years, the villagers were successfully growing their own healthy supplies of food and many families were growing enough to sell the surplus at market. When I met one of the grandmothers of the girls who would be sent off to hard factory labor, I asked her what her dream would be for her granddaughter if circumstances were different. The sparkle then gleamed in her eye as she responded, “For her to go to school.” Her beautiful but shy granddaughter absolutely lit up when she heard her grandma take the words right out of her mouth. “Yes! I want to go to school!”
This is the dream I hear articulated more than any other. It seems not to matter where I go, girls the world over are eager to learn. They long for an education, to attend school, and to explore what the world may offer outside of their current context. They have big dreams!
The goal of Week of Compassion’s food security programs is to support not only small stakeholder farmers or community cooperatives grow more food, but to grow enough that they can sell the surplus, make a profit, and be able to send their children to school. While many boys get this chance, it is often the girls who are expected to stay home and work to help the family. One of the greatest joys is when we see how our Week of Compassion gifts have led to a food secure home as well as an educated daughter.
Today is the first official International Day of the Girl Child, as commissioned by the United Nations last December. I am thrilled that the UN and the international community are finally naming the particular plights of girls and that they are focusing on the empowerment and education of girls in an intentional and powerful way.
Week of Compassion understands that when we help to educate a girl, we help her whole family. To improve the life of one woman is to change the life of an entire community. We know that successful sustainable development depends on the education of girls and women. Economic and social development around the world, including North America, depends directly on how we support and empower the girl child.
The Women’s Empowerment Fund of Week of Compassion honors these girls. It serves as a powerful vehicle to channel our resources specifically to improve the lives of girls like these in Northern India. Individually, you may feel powerless to actually make a difference in the lives of so many girls and women who long for an education. But coming together to share our compassion, leverage our resources, start giving clubs, and commit to improving girls’ and women’s lives means that every single one of us can have an impact. Imagine the impact we could have as the Church, together, in solidarity with girls across the globe.
One of my deepest prayers is that we celebrate the girl child not only on October 11, but every single day. Our future—theirs and ours—depends on it.
To donate to the Women’s Empowerment Fund: click here.
This Week's Responses
Great River Region, hurricane recovery