I am thinking about my vacation next year. I will not go to Hawaii or to my husband's homeland of New Zealand. I will travel to my birth country for the first time since leaving there at the age of 10, nearly 40 years ago. It is a land many Americans could not find on a map before 9/11, where the Taliban traverse porous borders and instill terror (along with the U.S. drones).
This is the country where my mother did the work of an NP, though she held “only” a diploma. She had a front-porch clinic to which people sometimes traveled days to seek medical care. She had her own “ambulance”—a Land Rover.
I'm talking about Pakistan, the country where over a year ago Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban because she possessed the most powerful weapon against poverty, persecution, abuse, terrorism, and ignorance: an education. Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died instead of her. On her 16th birthday, Malala spoke to the United Nations (and to an intent youth delegation) with the eloquence of a young Obama or Gandhi (the video is available at http://bit.ly/18e4VEo). Her father said in an interview that the terrorists did change Malala's resolve to become a physician but did not silence her—she now wants to become a politician and help heal her country (a semidemocratic country whose female president was assassinated not long ago).
How fortunate I was that I had educated parents who helped me get into college. In America, even the poor have a chance at a quality higher education. But in developing countries, even a primary-school education is often too expensive for the poor. According to UNESCO data, in 1999 nearly 110 million children worldwide—almost 60% of them girls—did not attend primary school; by 2009, the total number not in primary school had been reduced to 67 million, with the proportion of girls not in school remaining higher than that of boys. And the World Health Organization estimates that each year around 150 million girls (and 79 million boys) worldwide are victims of sexual violence. Fourteen million girls under the age of 18 will be married this year. The statistics go on and are staggering—child trafficking, children having babies.
There are now several organizations working to break these cycles of poverty and abuse. A World at School focuses on advocating for girls in Pakistan and Nigeria. Circle of Women is a nonprofit, run entirely by young students and professionals who help provide education in developing countries.
Another organization, 10×10, was founded by journalists and filmmakers who partner with nongovernmental agencies and social change organizations to promote education for girls worldwide. Their groundbreaking film, Girl Rising, was born out of a search for a way to end global poverty. And the simple answer became clear: educating girls is the investment with a high return in breaking cycles of poverty. For this film, nine journalists partnered with nine girls from nine countries to help tell their individual stories of rising above daunting obstacles.
My interest in this social awareness campaign stems not only from my upbringing in Pakistan, where my parents were missionaries, but also from being one of the one in four women in the world who is sexually abused or raped before age 18. In the last year, we are hearing more about gang rapes of girls, such as in Steubenville, Ohio, and Delhi, India. I challenge nurses to do something to help with these “girl” initiatives: help a poor girl in your community, motivate a girl or boy to become a nurse, donate to one of these organizations. Celebrate the International Day of the Girl, which occurs on October 11 each year.
Thank you, Mom and Malala, for being an inspiration.