Traveling for Change

EarthzineOpEd, Sections

Increased opportunities for education, travel and cultural exchanges can unite our planet.

 Holding the world in their hand. Image Credit: Rdghalayini

Holding the world in their hand. Image Credit: Rdghalayini

On Oct. 9, 2012, a teenage girl named Malala Yousafzai boarded her bus just like any other day. She and her schoolmates had just finished exams and were prepared to return to their homes when three Taliban gunmen stopped the bus, charged toward the group of terrified girls and demanded that Yousafzai identify herself.

The young woman was shot three times in the head and neck because she was and continues to be a vocal advocate for education and human rights in Pakistan. Yousafzai survived the attack and is now the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Despite death threats from the Taliban, she said on national television: ‰ÛÏAll I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.‰Û

This is an example of how powerful education can be.

Statistics and daily news reports of violence and poverty can paint a grim picture of life today. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 61 million primary school-age children were not enrolled in school in 2010. Half of these children are not expected to ever receive an education, but there is room for hope because these numbers are slowly changing.

The global increase in women’s education over the past four decades is estimated to have prevented more than 4 million child deaths. Education is linked to lower levels of poverty, lower infant mortality rates, and increased productivity and participation in civil rights issues. Access to education for every child could be the solution to many of our society’s problems, but how do we achieve this goal?

Before I went to school, I felt powerless in regards to big issues like global education. I lived in the western U.S. in a city with a great college, but didn’t feel I could afford to attend it. I only dreamed that I would be able to study in another country. Despite my doubts, I had many supportive people in my life who saw potential in me and encouraged me to apply.

After my first meeting with my adviser, I started to understand what hope felt like. Amazing mentors taught me how to get grants and scholarships, how to study hard, how to conduct research and how to find jobs. In my junior year, I received a Congressional Gilman Scholarship, which made it possible for me to pursue my dream of studying environmental biology in Latin America. This was when my hope turned to inspiration.

Studying abroad was life-changing. The world feels smaller and our problems more intertwined. I know more about humanity and more about myself. I fell in love with our differences, I laughed at our similarities, and I watched in awe as I experienced what people can accomplish with very few resources and hearts full of hope. The lessons I learned abroad lit a fire inside of me that left me with a strong urge to share my experiences and passion with others. The individuals and organizations that helped me along the way inspired me to start my own travel blog and scholarship to spread hope and encourage people of all ages to pursue an education and experience other cultures.

Global education is described by the Maastricht Global Education Declaration as:

‰ÛÏEducation that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the globalized world and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all. Global education is understood to encompass development education, human rights education, education for sustainable development, education for peace and conflict prevention and intercultural education.‰Û

Education and travel have the potential to unite the people of our planet despite our differences. Learning about places like Haiti, a country experiencing high poverty rates, depleted resources, and the effects of devastating natural disasters can make a person think more critically about how their country cares for the land, air, and water. Studying in rural areas of Laos, where obtaining water is a 3-mile journey, could make one consider getting involved in programs like Engineers Without Borders to help bring clean water and sanitation to communities worldwide.

There are many scary things in the world today, but as a society we are setting ourselves up for a better future by making education a global priority. The United Nation’s Global Education First Initiative has the goal of providing access to education for every child, especially those in war-torn and rural areas. They are just one of many organizations aiming to provide a global education to our future workforce, voters, and leaders.

I am doing what I can to promote global education. Who knows, maybe one day my small seed will grow into something big. This is the case for Yousafzai, who started her activism when she was 11 years old by writing a blog and has now sparked a worldwide conversation on human rights.

We all have the power within us to create positive change, to make a groundbreaking discovery, or to inspire someone else. Global education is a tool that can bring these qualities out in people if they have access to opportunities such as basic education and cultural exchange. I encourage everyone to hold onto hope and act on it, even if your contribution seems small. In the words of Malala Yousafzai: ‰ÛÏOne child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.‰Û