Image provided by READ Global
Ten years ago, a trip to Nepal changed the course of my life and career. After a decade working as an attorney and legal recruiter, I traveled to Asia as a volunteer with an international educational non-profit. I was yearning to have a more positive impact on the world through my work. During this trip, I finally understood the stark difference between growing up female in the United States and being female in a developing country.
This wake-up call was echoed by a woman named Chuna Devi who I later met in Nepal, who once said that “being born as a girl is worthless.” As a girl in rural Nepal, Chuna’s education was never a priority. She grew up illiterate, herding goats and cows. She was married at 16 and soon had two daughters.
By the year 2030, 130 million girls just like Chuna will get married before the age of 18 – ending their education and resulting in early pregnancies. About 493 million women worldwide are illiterate, and more than half live in South Asia. Many of these women must seek permission from their husbands to leave their homes and face gender discrimination in their communities. Living in poverty, they often can’t support their families because they lack marketable job skills.
For four years now, I have been fortunate to lead READ Global, an international nonprofit that serves more than 2 million incredible women and men across South Asia. We establish community-owned libraries called READ Centers in rural, marginalized communities that would not otherwise have access to key resources such as computers, books, and educational trainings in literacy, livelihood skills, health, and more. We place special emphasis on serving women, because we know that they will in turn pay it forward to their children and the rest of their community.
In my work with READ, I have met countless women like Chuna Devi. At the age of 47, Chuna changed her and her daughters’ lives by taking the courageous step of finally learning to read at a READ Center. Her newfound literacy skills gave her the confidence to take other trainings at the Center such as leadership development, and income-generating programs like vegetable farming. This past year, Chuna launched a women’s study group, and started saving money to invest in her daughters’ education. Today, she proves to other women that it’s never too late to learn. You can watch a short video of her story:
It is true that global poverty is still a crushing problem and we are not making progress quickly enough. Women are half the population of the world and yet, in many countries, they will spend their entire lives cut off from education and opportunities to build a better future.
But when I visit South Asia, I see the smiles on the faces of countless women like Chuna – and the confidence and self-esteem that now emanate from them. I know that the progress these women have made in life will have exponential positive effects on their families and communities for generations to come. And I know that if we are to make meaningful change happen, we must focus on women. They are powerful change agents who are waiting for the rest of the world to awaken.
Tina Sciabica is the Executive Director of READ Global, an international nonprofit organization working in South Asia to provide education and economic opportunity to rural villagers. You can follow READ at www.readglobal.org, www.facebook.com/readglobal, or www.twitter.com/readglobal.