Paying Education Forward
by Celia Buckman, GirlUp
On Thursdays in first grade, I would spend all day looking forward to 11:00, when my class would walk in a line down to the library. I found few things as exciting as pulling out book after book and sounding out titles and flipping through the pages. I would slowly accumulate piles of books I wanted next to me, faced with the horrible dilemma of choosing which two I would check out for the week.
My love for reading continued, as I moved from Dr. Seuss to chapter books. I would scour the library for books I hadn't seen before. In fourth grade, my teacher had me read a book unlike any I had read before called The Breadwinner. It told the fictional story of an Afghani girl who had been forced to leave school when the Taliban gained control of her town. I was shocked--I couldn't imagine a world where a girl just like me would be deprived of access to books.
In eighth grade, my language arts teacher gave me another book, Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities. By this time, I was fostering a nascent pursuit of social activism, and was reading more and more about complex issues facing countries like India and Nigeria. But again, I was so surprised to read Kozol's chronicles of education inequalities in the United States. How could I have such a beautiful library and healthy school lunches when there were schools only a few miles away that were struggling to provide students with pencils?
These experiences and many others inspired me to become an advocate for universal access to and excellence in education. My education, which I owe to dedicated teachers and a supportive community, opened my eyes to the world around me. I wasn't just taught how to read, I learned how to pay it forward. Every child deserves the excitement and anticipation of turning a page of a cliffhanger, and the hope that shines through the words of memoirs. And I'm going to use what I learn to make that a reality.
As a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, I have a platform to do that. Girl Up is a UN Foundation campaign devoted to providing equal opportunities for girls globally, including formal and informal education. Supporting girls' education is not just a moral act, but a smart one--educated women are more likely to send their own children to school, creating a ripple effect in their communities.
Celia Buckman is a Girl Up Teen Advisor and a junior at New Trier High School, just outside of Chicago.