A lot has changed since I started working at Pencils of Promise almost nine years ago.
Professionally, PoP has gone from a small but mighty handful of volunteers to a fulltime global staff of over 100 people; we’ve gone from building a couple of schools here and there to partnering with governments to embark on systemic change inside the classroom.
Globally, the conversation around international education has shifted. The importance of training high quality teachers and supporting girls’ initiatives is more prevalent than ever, and the combined efforts behind these topics are making a much needed dent.
And personally, at nine months pregnant with my first child, I’m making the biggest life transition yet.
I’m about to welcome a brand new little girl into the world and my mind is racing with all of the ways I want her to know that she is strong, loved, valued and equal. To know that she is not defined by her gender, status or position in life and that her family and friends will work to give her every opportunity possible.
It is also abundantly clear to me how fortunate both little girl and I are in this regard. There is no question that she will go to school and have qualified teachers who are excited to invest in her. Or that she’ll be read to every night because her family has the luxury of being home with her and that we ourselves were given free, public education. She will never need to convince me that she should go to secondary school and that she deserves to feel safe and protected while there.
This reality, of course, is not the case for many.
In working and traveling in the developing world, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges that girls are facing. I know loving and supportive families that don’t send their daughters to school. And I wonder, if this was my little girl, would I send her in these conditions? Would I see the value in her becoming literate if there were babies to care for and fields to tend to just to get food on the table? When she hits puberty, would I expect her to go to school while menstruating without access to a bathroom or clean water? Would I ask that for secondary school she ride a bike miles away, board in self-built shelter with no adults and no support?
I want to say I would, that against all odds I would fight for her to get the education she deserves. But that isn’t my reality and I don’t know what I would do faced with those decisions. What I do know is that I want my life’s work, and my daughter’s understanding of my work, to be dedicated toward helping make these decisions easier for other families.
Our work at PoP focuses on early grades and primary school and we deeply believe that by ensuring parity in early education — 51% of our 90,000+ students are girls — students and families will reap the benefits of educating their daughters and continue to send them to school.
Soon, literally any day now, I’ll get to welcome my own little girl into a world where she knows her value and where she sees her opportunities. And not that long after, I’ll pack her in a carrier and show her parts of the world very different from her own. Together, we’ll learn about the obstacles, triumphs and tenacity of families fighting to give their own little girls an education.
About the author:
Leslie Engle Young is the Chief Impact Officer with Pencils of Promise. She started with the organization in 2009, then living and working in Laos as the Country Director. Leslie has traveled extensively with PoP and spends the bulk of her time partnering with in-country leadership to support the growth and strategy of PoP’s work.