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Caroline Riseboro

Girls Belong in School

Caroline Riseboro

During the past month, students across the country have been walking through their school hallways for the first time in several months. Despite hearing my son’s concerns over the summer about having a new teacher, new classmates, and new subjects to learn, he has now quickly settled into his Grade Four routine.

It is always an exciting time as the start of the school year is so full of potential. As a mother, I viewed his pre-school jitters as one way to turn his worries into a teachable moment about education for children – especially girls – around the world.

My son is lucky. He will be nurtured again this year by an education system that prioritizes learning. He has an abundance of resources at his grasp to develop his abilities, talents, and interests. And he has teachers and mentors who can guide him as he pursues his dreams.

I explained to him that there are children around the world who don’t have the opportunity to go to school and millions of girls who are denied the right to learn, simply because they are girls.

Out of the 260 million children out of school, more than 130 million are girls who have never stepped foot in a classroom.

No matter how many times I share this statistic, I still feel outraged when I reflect on what it means for the lives behind this staggering number. These lives fuel our work at Plan International Canada, and why we are so committed to helping as many girls, no matter their age, begin to learn.

Anzoo in class

Anzoo learning in remedial class at the local Plan International-run day centre.

Anzoo’s height makes her stand out. At 17, she is the eldest in her remedial class of 12-year-olds. Despite her age, she isn’t embarrassed to attend these classes at the local Plan International-run day centre to catch up on lost years of education due to conflict.

“I missed three years of school as my family kept having to move to escape the fierce fighting in Bor,” she says. “This is my only chance to catch up on all that I lost.”

Anzoo lives in South Sudan, a country with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, where only 27 per cent of the population aged 15 years and above know how to read and write.

But even when girls like Anzoo do have the opportunity to attend school, they face barriers that prevent them from opportunities to reach their full potential.

Some of these barriers include deeply-rooted attitudes and expectations at home and in the community that restrict girls’ access to (and prevent the completion of) education.

For instance, gender-based violence among peers and teachers is all too common, and creates unsafe learning environments.

Advertisements that devalue education in favour of physical appearances shape stereotypes and negative perceptions about girls and diminish their inherent rights and power.

All of these forces create hurtles for girls as they strive to realize their rights, unlock their potential and achieve their dreams. This is what I like to call the “dream gap” – a complex combination of barriers that deny or impede girls from achieving their dreams and realizing their full potential.

4 girls smiling outside school

Girls in Colombia learn about their sexual and reproductive health rights from Plan International-trained peer educators at their school.

But thanks to you, our strong and committed community of donors, we are working to close this dream gap.

In the classroom, and far beyond, girls have the right to shape their own lives and dreams – as future leaders, innovators, activists, doctors, and teachers – or whoever they aspire to be.

It’s still hard for my son to understand there are millions of children that have never set foot in a school. It’s almost unfathomable to my 9-year-old that something so elemental in his life isn’t easily accessible to girls like Anzoo.

But with your help, Anzoo was able to shatter the barriers that prevented her from learning.

Plan International Canada is working with millions of girls like Anzoo, helping them realize their rights and power, closing the dream gap for good.

By supporting our programs around the world, you are already helping to bridge this global dream gap.

We thank you for playing such a vital role in Plan International Canada’s work.