Do you remember your senior year of high school? I was busy juggling classes, working after school and making time to figure skate 20 hours a week plus all the normal social activities.
When Did You Recognize the Value of Education?
When it was time to fill out college applications, I told my parents I wanted to join an ice show and see the world. After lots of heated discussions, I accepted my parents priorities and headed to college.
Preferring to learn by doing, I rushed through college finishing my undergraduate degree in 7 semesters and my computer science graduate degree early. I joined IBM and lived inside the “corporate bubble” for 29 years. I finally got to travel with an IBM assignment based in Tokyo, living and working all over Asia.
My technology career meant living and working among highly educated people like myself. So I never got to know people with different backgrounds – people from other countries, women who didn't have the opportunity to go to college, different family cultures and languages … and so much more.
My move to Florida opened my eyes to a cross-section of cultures, languages, educational backgrounds, people on Medicaid and so much more. Experiencing the American melting pot when taking my granddaughter for swimming lessons was amazing. There were mothers who spoke different languages (not just Spanish), many shades of skin color and two women wearing hijabs.
What Inspired My Passion for Girls Education?
Moving to Florida offered me a glimpse into an America I'd never known. With lower incomes, I found less emphasis on education. Florida public schools are ranked among the lowest in the country for K-12 and the state's adult literacy rate is just 80%.
Why did I learn so much about Florida's education system?
The Covid pandemic hit less than a year after I arrived in Florida. One of my granddaughter's friends called me for help when school closed. Once I got her online, I started daily calls on Skype to review her work answer questions.
Ari's writing skills were horrible. When meeting in person, I saw her struggling with math so I ordered flash cards. This was easy homework for Ari and her grandmother to practice every night.
When Ari's middle school refused to test her for learning disabilities, I paid for testing which indicated she was dyslexic. This led to searching for a tutor and ultimately moving her to a private school for kids with learning challenges where she's made great progress.
Then last March as the world opened up after Covid, I visited Nepal …
We stayed with this amazing family, Ranju and Gopi Adhikari, in Kathmandu. Visiting the rural village where they grew up gave me even more inspiration to help girls and women get the education they deserve.
When I travel, my favorite activity has always been meeting people and learning how they live. Traveling around Nepal showed me a lifestyle I couldn't imagine. I was amazed at how happy and welcoming people were with so little compared to life in the US.
At the same time I learned about the challenges girls face in Nepal, listening to Ranju's story. At age 11, her mother took her out of school to work in the fields, to earn money so her brothers could continue their education. Then when she was 16, Ranju's mother arranged her marriage to Gopi.
Fortunately Ranju's marriage turned out well. She's very involved in their family business, along with the many projects they support to help their community. They focus on girl's education as Ranju wants to help as many girls as possible live their dreams … knowing how much her limited education has affected her life.
My Ideas for Enhancing Girls Education in the US and Globally
This project is huge and I'm ready. Throughout my career I've always said “the bigger the challenge, the more I can learn, the happier I am”. Here's my outline for getting started and I invite you to join me on this journey.
Your feedback and help are appreciated as ultimately, we're building a community of women committed to helping girls and women next door or around the world.
Note: As I wrote this I realized there are too many big ideas. Rather than prioritize before sharing my journey, I decided it was more important to get all my ideas written down.
- Identify and prioritize projects to increase girls participation in educational opportunities. I'll start by learning what similar organizations are doing around the world and I'm surprised that “empowering girls through education”
- Identify US resources for underserved girls like Ari who aren't getting the education they need right here in the US.
- Girls at Work in New Hampshire, an amazing non-profit teaching girls how to use power tools to build their confidence and teach them they can do anything.
- Rukmini Foundation in Nepal, has evolved a great array of services to keep girls in school through graduation.
- Camfed in Africa, a group I worked with years ago when visiting Zimbabwe.
- Develop a brand and fundraising strategy. There are two huge challenges here:
- Partnering with existing non-profits already delivering results. Why? When researching books for Gopi and Ranju's library project, I discovered Room to Read which has already delivered more than 40 million books.
- Building relationships with community leaders and working through them to deliver sustainable results once projects are begun.
- Create a business plan that lays out fund raising and expenses for my non-profit. Don't know much yet but people have told me:
- Partnership with women's studies researchers
- Books recognizing the dreams of girls and women
- Resource directory