'One Girl With Courage Is a Revolution'

Posted by Robert O. Blake
April 30, 2013
Girl Flies a Kite in Katmandu, Nepal

Suma Tharu, a girl from Nepal, was sold into indentured servitude (Kamlari) at the age of six and braved another six years of forced labor and physical abuse, before a teacher took her under his wing. With the help of an NGO called Room to Read, whose work is supported by the State Department, Suma joined a local school and is close to graduating from high school. She plans to become a health educator and advocate for girls' education and ending the Kamlari system that entrapped her.

Suma's grit and determination to change the grim reality of the life into which she was born is truly remarkable. Her story was featured, along with those of girls from Haiti, India, Afghanistan, and other countries, in the inspirational documentary Girl Rising, which was previewed at a recent panel on girls' education here at the State Department. Their stories are evidence of the power of education to transform lives, and how educating girls benefits entire families, communities, and societies.

Studies show that over 60 percent of illiterate youth globally are girls and that women and girls make up the majority of the world's poor; they also show that just an extra year of schooling increases women's wages by up to 20 percent later in life. Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world (what the World Bank calls the "Girl Effect Dividend") and leads to better results in health, nutrition, reduction in poverty and population growth, and economic growth.

Promoting equality for women and girls is one of our key priorities, and I am proud to be part of our government's concerted effort to advance the social, economic, and political position of women and girls not only in Nepal, but across the region. In just two years, our partner organization Room to Read has trained over 1,500 girls and 5,000 teachers in four SCA countries. The State Department's range of programs, including our popular English Access Micro-Scholarship programs assisting children from disadvantaged communities; student and professional exchange programs; sport and tech camps; and our two high-profile initiatives in South and Central Asia to advance female entrepreneurship and political inclusion -- reflect our conviction that investing in educating girls and women and equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in life is smart foreign policy.

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