The “Bring Back Our Girls” call-to-action and meme has infiltrated social and mainstream media, and American political figures and celebrities have joined the international outcry to recover the nearly 300 Nigerian kidnapped schoolgirls. However, as the mainstream embraces the call for justice—including First Lady Michelle Obama who joined the Twitter campaign on May 7—there has been criticism about the hollow nature of building an awareness campaign through the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls from detractors such as columnist and Rush Limbaugh fill-in Mark Steyn.
The plight of the Nigerian schoolgirls is heartwrenching, but as Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times Op-Ed “What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?“ suggests, the incident is one of countless acts of violence and exclusion that constitute a much deeper global injustice. The militants of the Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram (which means “western education is sinful” in Hausa, the most commonly spoken language in Nigeria) targeted school girls, because these extremists are fighting against the transforming power of educating girls.
In a way, Steyn is correct. (Although, one has to ask if would it be better to simply sit back and not participate in the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign?) American students, librarians, and educators cannot physically recover the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls simply by posting #BringBackOurGirls to their social media accounts. However, the well-known news story provides a pivotal opportunity for educators to create authentic learning experiences for students.
For example, last year, a middle-grade book club at the Seneca Ridge Middle School read Linda Sue Park’s book A Long Walk to Water (HMH, 2011) about “The Lost Boys of Sudan,” and the book became jump pad for a project-based learning experience in which the book club worked together with nonprofit international charity group Sudan Sunrise to to not only raise money to provide over 15,000 meals for students in South Sudan (as reported in SLJ in April 2014), but also made use of 21st-century digital skills, taught students about marketing and fundraising, and engaged the students in an interactive role about spreading awareness about Sudan’s history and current social situation throughout the surrounding community. Using this “service learning project” model, librarians and educators can encourage their students to participate as digital citizens and invest in young women’s education around the globe while expanding their world and developing a much needed life skill that isn’t usually tested in school exams—compassion.
tips and tools for introducING global awareness inTO your libraries and classrooms:
Use credible, authoritative sources on the subject to educate American students on the issues at hand:
According to a recent report by the World Bank Group, girls with little or no education are more likely to be married as children, live in poverty, and suffer domestic violence, which has a negative impact on their children and communities. Additionally, there are a variety of online news sources available for students and teachers to gather and evaluate information related to the global girls education; PBS LearningMedia has a wealth of educational videos and curriculum tools to use in school libraries, including videos about young girls struggles to attain a complete education in countries like Afghanistan, Benin, and others in West Africa. Another notable source is CNN Student News, which provides a daily 10-minute commercial-free current events news program for middle and high school students.
Encourage students to read diverse books that discuss the global fight for girl’s education:
You can check out the hashtag/meme #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which is a conversation amongst publishers, authors, and readers about the lack of diversity in today’s book offerings. Also, you can make sure you library has the book I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Little, Brown, 2013), which is an autobiographical account of a Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school. She survived and miraculously recovered and became a powerful symbol of a girl’s right to education and the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
The following two books, which can be found on a list of culturally diverse books compiled by the editors of SLJ offer additional diverse perspectives of young girls who long for an education against all odds. Lost Girl Found by Leah Bassoff & Laura Deluca (Groundwood Books, 2014 for grades 8 and up) tells the story of a young girl during the Sudanese Civil War and describes the disparate gender roles of South Sudanese culture. Serefina’s Promise, by Ann E. Burg (Scholastic, 2013) for grades 4-6, offers the story of a young girl in poverty-stricken Haiti and her pursuit of a dream to go to school so she may one day become a doctor.
Empowered with a deeper empathy and understanding for not only the risk and suffering of the kidnapped Nigerian girls, but also of the larger-scale context of unequal education access for girls in countries like Pakistan and South Sudan, American students are given the opportunity to develop opinions and respond.
Sign a petition:
For activism beyond simply sharing the stories they read with others, students can sign a petition to leaders with the ability to make a direct impact in recovering the abducted Nigerian girls. Additionally, fundraising for a special drive hosted by The Malala Fund will provide assistance directly to Nigerian girls and women. (According to the fund’s website, “The Malala Fund will donate 100 percent of funds raised to local Nigerian nonprofit organizations focused on education and advocacy for girls and women.”)
Get your students involved in a service learning project:
Limited access to girls’ education is not exclusively a Nigerian problem, and service learning projects can focus on skill building and furthering other initiatives throughout Africa. For example, Sudan Sunrise provides guided support for service learning projects at middle and high schools wishing to have an impact internationally. The nonprofit works directly with educators to design a project tailored to the needs of each school group. One such example of an initiative is providing scholarships for girls in South Sudan, which Sudan Sunrise does in collaboration with the Africa Education and Leadership Initiative. (One year’s tuition for a day school student costs only $150, and tuition with boarding, healthcare, and supplies costs only $500.) Other ongoing or developing Sudan Sunrise projects include providing school lunches and teacher salaries at two primary schools serving girls and putting donated textbooks into the hands of female students.
Another organization operating in Africa that your school library or book club can get involved with is Camfed, which provides tuition, supplies, and support for girls education in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Camfed also works to train teacher mentors and parent support groups to keep students in school. (Ninety percent of all donations are used as charitable expenditure.)
These are just some tools for your global awareness toolbox. By providing our students with opportunities to help combat the global issue of unequal access to education for girls, our students will in turn create authentic, global learning experiences and develop the skills of informed, productive citizens, who can think critically, draw conclusions and take action in a productive, meaningful way. We can change the world, one library at a time.
Or, last but not least, you can introduce your students into global thinking by watching a short video covering an issue, like initiatives for boosting girls’ access to education in countries, like “Learn Like a Girl” created by Sudan Sunrise:
Lauren McBride is a librarian at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling Virginia, of the Loudoun County Public School District. She tweets @bravelibrarian.
Heather Flor is a director of advancement for Sudan Sunrise with nine years of experience as a high school English teacher. She can be reached at email@example.com.