Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Education makes life worth living

By Mariane Pearl, Special to CNN
September 19, 2013 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
All <a href='/2013/10/09/world/asia/malala-shooting-anniversary/index.html' target='_blank'>Malala Yousafzai</a> wanted was an education for herself and other young girls in Pakistan and despite threats from the Taliban, she continued to go to school. When it was clear that Malala wouldn't back down to increasing intimidation, the Taliban shot her in the head. <!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>It's the story of the young girl that captured the hearts of so many across the world. But she is not alone. We meet five other female campaigners from across the globe. These are all inspirational young women who have overcome poverty and hardship and are passionate about giving something back to their communities. All Malala Yousafzai wanted was an education for herself and other young girls in Pakistan and despite threats from the Taliban, she continued to go to school. When it was clear that Malala wouldn't back down to increasing intimidation, the Taliban shot her in the head.

It's the story of the young girl that captured the hearts of so many across the world. But she is not alone. We meet five other female campaigners from across the globe. These are all inspirational young women who have overcome poverty and hardship and are passionate about giving something back to their communities.
HIDE CAPTION
The world's 'other Malalas'
The world's 'other Malalas'
The world's 'other Malalas'
The world's 'other Malalas'
The world's 'other Malalas'
The world's 'other Malalas'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UNESCO releases a report that shows education can radically transform people's lives
  • Mariane Pearl: Education is the most efficient weapon to combat world's pressing problems
  • She says if all women had a primary education, child mortality could fall by a sixth
  • Pearl: It is education that makes life worth living; we should all never stop learning

Editor's note: Mariane Pearl, an award-winning journalist, is author of "A Mighty Heart" and the managing editor of Chime for Change, a campaign to empower girls and women around the world. This piece was written in association with UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report Team. Follow UNESCO's Global Monitoring Report on Twitter: @EFAReport

(CNN) -- One hot summer morning in Monrovia, Liberia, I came across a group of young men who had been snatched from their classrooms by paramilitary groups and turned into child soldiers. They had been drugged and forced to rape, torture and kill people. At the end of our talk, they said: "We just want to go back to school." The oldest was 16. Educating these youths meant more than imparting knowledge.

Information alone wouldn't satisfy the thirst of these war victims-turned perpetrators. Their faith in education was immense. They thought it would bring meaning to their lives. They wanted to understand what humans are made of, they wanted ethics and wisdom and skills to master acceptance or apply compassion.

In short, they wanted their dignity back. And besides crucial economic, peace and health factors, this is what education is all about.

Education is the most efficient weapon with which to address the world's most pressing problems. And as a new analysis released by UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report Team demonstrates, education's transformative power knows no boundaries.

Mariane Pearl
Mariane Pearl

Investing in education, especially for girls, result in substantial benefits for their health and productivity. It also increases democratic participation and empowers women, according to the UNESCO report, "Education Transforms Lives."

The research reveals that if all women had a primary education, child marriages and child mortality could fall by a sixth and maternal deaths by two-thirds.

With a visceral instinct to protect their children from harm, mothers work miracles every day to provide their children with education.

One day in Uganda, a woman who was dying from AIDS because of an unfaithful husband, told her eldest daughter that she had made her choice. Rather than buy medicine to save her own life (this was before anti-retroviral drugs were widely available and affordable), she would spend her money to send her daughter to school. She asked her child to become a doctor and help save her people from this devastating disease.

Julian Atim, whom I met after her mother had passed away, indeed became a doctor. She created the first alliance of Ugandan health workers to fight HIV in a country where professionals tend to leave in droves and practice abroad for economic reasons.

Julian went on to study at Harvard University before returning to the war-torn rural area of northern Uganda, where for the longest time she was one of two doctors serving a population of 300,000. She didn't only study medicine; at 35, she's also an expert in advocacy and human rights. There are countless mothers like Julian's out there, and they are everywhere -- mothers for whom education doesn't merely prepare one for life, education is life.

Yet 57 million children are out of school. This means we are yet to make free and compulsory education a priority. The world leaders who are about to meet at the U.N. General Assembly should do everything in their power to meet this goal now and look at this effort as the safest investment into our common future.

Beyond all the conflicts tearing the world apart, it is the human aspiration to learn and grow that might hold us together. Education is our guiding hope.

You can't change your life if you don't know how.

Education saves lives, averts hunger, promotes tolerance and gives purpose. People overcome impossible odds thanks to education. For example, if all women had secondary school, they would know how to feed their children. They would know the hygiene rules that they should follow. And they would have a stronger voice in the home to ensure proper care.

This change would save more than 12 million children from being stunted -- a sign of early childhood malnutrition.

Learning gives us the means to lead meaningful lives and a proper education will awaken the desire to benefit others. The difference between a primary and secondary education can improve tolerance towards people of another race by 50%, according to the UNESCO report.

Arguing that we should all get better educated to become better people doesn't mean that the need for basic education isn't dire.

Recently, on Chime for Change, I published an astonishing story brought to me by journalist Veronique Mistiaen and her colleague, photographer Fjona Hill, about the practice of trokosi in rural Ghana.

The trokosi practice calls for virgin girls to be sent to the shrines of fetish gods to pay for crimes committed by one of their relatives. They become living sacrifices, protecting their families from the gods' wrath. Some stay at the shrines for a few years; others for life. The young girls become slaves to the priest. They live with a rope tied around their neck, fighting hunger and working from dawn to dusk.

The Ghanaian government outlawed the practice in 1998 and over the years about 3,000 of the trokosi slaves have been liberated, but many more have been brought to more remote shrines. A young woman named Millicent Thenkey tried to defend herself but learned the hard way that the law wasn't enough to protect her.

She had been allowed to go to school while preparing to take her final initiation at Kilkor shrine in Ketu South district. There, she learned that the practice was a violation of human rights. She reported her initiation to the police and took her parents to court -- something no one had dared to do before. But her parents refused to attend the hearing and the police didn't force them, so the case was thrown out of court and Millicent became a slave.

As she pursued her investigation, interviewing priests and families, Mistiaen met a priest who told her: "We just heard that trokosi was against the law and that women were human beings and needed to be treated as equal. We hadn't ever heard before that women needed to be treated as equal." This is how deep the need to educate is.

But there is a school now in the area, and the priest admits that education will succeed in eradicating slavery even where the law has failed.

"The new generations are learning new things, reading about the world. I don't think they will be interested in sitting behind the shrine wearing this hat of mine," he said.

Aristotle thought that an uneducated man was as good as dead. Julian's mother chose her daughter's education over her own life. Torgbi Abiaeu, the priest in Ghana, reluctantly admitted the defeat of tradition by education.

In all these cases, the conclusion remains the same. It is education that makes life worth living and the best I can wish to anyone is to never stop learning.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mariane Pearl.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT