Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Education makes life worth living

By Mariane Pearl, Special to CNN
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
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
updated 7:34 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT