Helping girls get educated

Warning: This is not a typical MarkTzk.com blog post.


One of my daughters.

Let me tell you a personal story. I have two daughters. They were both born in Guatemala and lived there, in foster homes, until my wife and I adopted them. I still remember seeing children — whole families of children — standing on a sidewalk during rush hour with their hands out, hoping for a little money from the rush of strangers around them.

Guatemala is a beautiful country, where many people still speak languages that date back to the pre-Columbian Mayan culture. It is also one of the poorest places in the Western Hemisphere. This is what the U.S. State Department says:

According to the World Bank, Guatemala has one of the most unequal income distributions in the hemisphere. The wealthiest 10% of the population receives almost one-half of all income; the top 20% receives two-thirds of all income. As a result, about 32% of the population lives on less than $2 a day and 13.5% on less than $1 a day. Guatemala’s social development indicators, such as infant mortality and illiteracy, are among the worst in the hemisphere.

So almost half the population lives on $2 a day, or less. Most of us will drop more than that at Starbucks without thinking about it. This strikes me powerfully, because that is probably the kind of economic circumstances my daughters would have been consigned to had we not adopted them. But adoption is not a solution to Guatemala’s poverty (and adoptions in Guatemala have sometimes been problematic for other reasons).

I don’t think there’s any question that it will take decades of sustained effort and investment, from both inside and outside the tiny nation, to raise the standard of living. And, sadly, Guatemala is not the only country in this situation. Globally, about 2.5 billion people live on $2 a day — or less. I don’t know how many of those 2.5 billion are children, but it must number in the hundreds of millions.

I’m not going to claim that I know how to end global poverty — I don’t. It’s a complex problem, and there are difficulties both finding effective solutions and implementing them. But I do know that one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce poverty in a society is to educate girls. As of 2006, at least 73 million children of elementary school age [PDF] were not enrolled in school (the numbers were probably higher, given the way the data is collected). Girls account for 55 percent of children [PDF] not enrolled in school.

That’s why this week I added a new widget to the sidebar of this blog. It’s a fundraising widget from Kintera, an online charity site, to support Room to Read. Room to Read does not work in Latin America (yet; I wish it did), but it works in Africa and Asia, helping set up schools, provide books and support education in some of the world’s poorest communities. If you have a little extra time I encourage you to visit Room to Read’s Web site, learn more and perhaps contribute. If you want to contribute through the widget on this site, then we’ll have a way, over time, of measuring how much money we can send to the organization. I have a pretty modest goal of $500, but if we get there fast, I’ll raise it.

If you want to direct money specifically to programs in Guatemala that help girls, you might consider the New York-based Population Council, which is working with some of Guatemala’s poorest and most marginalized groups. They’ve sponsored a program designed to help girls stay in school longer in Guatemala.

Whatever moves you, or doesn’t, please let me know what you think by sharing your thoughts in the comments below or sending me an email.

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