Two winters ago, I had the great privilege of visiting the Salt and Light International School, nestled in the rural nooks of Cambodia; there, I spent a short but insightful week living, eating, and learning with the young Cambodian girls who welcomed me—a quite nervous and unsettled foreigner—so lovingly into their tight-knit, loving community.
Living alongside these girls, whose ages ranged from four to twenty, was both an eye-opening and inspiring experience; the girls woke up promptly at 5:00 am every day—dragging along a very jet-lagged me—to visit the chapel, pray for their day’s coming studies, and to dive headfirst into new knowledge inside the classroom.
From the very first day of being in a classroom with the Cambodian students, I was amazed at the profound effect the knowledge they encountered had on their lives. With every new tidbit of information that entered their minds, I saw excitement light up their faces and their eyes twinkle with the simple satisfaction of knowing something new. While they may not have been living the most luxurious lives, their existences were enriched daily with the power of education—an idea so under-appreciated by the younger generation of the United States today.
Each morning in the United States, hundreds of millions of young girls and boys go to school grudgingly, waiting desperately for the moment they can return home; what they fail to realize, however, is what a privilege they have to be provided free education daily.
I, myself, did not realize how fortunate I was to be in an incredible public school system in my home city of Los Angeles, California, until I saw how transformative education was for the Cambodian students at the Salt and Light International School. With glowing faces, two girls I will always remember—Nika and Chanthorn—told me of their college plans, of the careers they wished to fearlessly pursue, of the lives they foresaw ahead of them. This hope, they said, was due almost entirely in part to the education they received at the Salt and Light International School. Without these foundational tools, their futures would be confined to the paths of their mothers and fathers and innumerable generations before them.
The power of education is important for girls all over the world; this is precisely why, in promoting women’s rights, my primary idea is this: instead of simply providing resources to girls and women in need, we must provide them opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive, in hopes that they can take these skills and seize life boldly—that they may learn endlessly to feel confident in speaking their own voices, and in this way, truly being loud women. We must show these girls—and all girls, for that matter—the power of their opinions, the flames inside of them that could be ignited with a single match.
Attaining these opportunities of free education for girls across the globe is certainly a work in progress; millions of girls today are still denied access to education simply by virtue of their X chromosomes. As such, we must take actions, even it simply means small daily steps. I urge you all as loud women to make your voices heard and to take a stand for girls’ education by doing simple things: signing bills such as S. 1580 and sending it to your state senators, teaching girls in the neighborhood to read and write, or organizing a book drive at your school to donate to schools like the Salt and Light International School in Cambodia. Together, we can bring light to the power of education for girls everywhere.