A Pen is Mightier Than Any Sword
It was nearly a year ago that I saw these seemingly simple, but ultimately profound, words inscribed onto the outer wall of a school in India; the defined blue characters standing out from the otherwise peeling painted concrete. The more time went on, the more I pondered. What if centuries of conflicts could be fought again, this time with a pen rather than a sword? In other words, what if we rewrote history so that communication and education were used in place of direct violence and ignorance? It would be fair to say many lives could have been saved, many wars could have been avoided and many problems could have been solved sooner.
While I was travelling, I met a 12 year old girl named Keerthi; little did I know that our conversation would change my perspective forever.
Keerthi lives in one of the poorest communites in her city. She lives in a one bedroom shanty with her mum, dad and 2 older brothers. They don’t have a bathroom or a proper kitchen, or a table to sit at for meals. Her father works hard as rickshaw driver all day but only makes enough money to buy basic food and pay rent. She has to use a public toilet which is shared by the whole slum, and until only a few year ago they did not have access to clean drinking water or proper sanitary facilities. Her family were deprived of these basic human needs, they were living in what we call extreme poverty.
Because of the lack of sanitation in her slum, Keerthi became sick. When I met her, she hadn’t gone to school for a year. Because of a lack of access to the most basic human rights we take for granted, Keerthi was being denied her education. What shocked me even more was the revelation that it is far too common for girls Keerthi’s’ age to stop attending school.
Many girls in India must leave school for a week every month due to the cultural taboos surrounding their menstruation and a lack of materials to manage their period flow. One week a month equates to approximately 3 months a year and due to these absences, approximately 30% of girls drop out of school altogether. This is one of the main reasons that, right at the very moment you are reading this sentence, approximately 60 million girls around the world do not get an education. Think about this for a minute. The full impact of this number didn’t hit home until I realised that we are not just dealing with a number. We are dealing with 60 million stories. I’ve only told you Keerthi’s story today. There are still so many that have been left unheard. Each of these girls has their own likes, dislikes and dreams for the future. For all we know, one of these stories could be of a future Einstein, a Malala or Obama; someone who could greatly impact this world. The bad news? Unless they get an education, we are unlikely to ever know if this was the case.
There is good news. And that is that real change is possible. Thankfully, Keerthi is no longer part of this statistic. She was given the help she needed to enter school, thanks to not-for-profit organisations here in Australia! With a gleam of hope in her eyes and passion in a voice, I remember Keerthi declaring that her goal is to become a doctor in order to provide free health care for others and help those in her community escape the never ending cycle of poverty she and her family were once stuck in. She doesn’t want to see other young girls go through what she did. This inspiring individual was empowered to dream big, and as a result only wants to empower others to do the same. When I stopped to think about it, I realised that Keerthi’s statement represented a new cycle; a cycle of empowerment, a cycle of education, a cycle which ultimately ensures that all children are given that chance to build a brighter future. In the words of Kofi Anan: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”.
While switching on my bedside lamp the other day I had a random thought: darkness seizes to exist as soon as you have a source of light. Ok so maybe I'm totally just stating the obvious. But think about it: darkness can never overcome light; the smallest flame has the power to interrupt and conquer any vast expanse of it.
Education -the light of knowledge, wisdom and acceptance - is far mightier than the sharp blade of ignorance and disempowerment. Our goal at TABOO is to provide a platform for YOU to work with other world-changers to bring this light to the lives of so many around the world. Together, WE CAN kick start a continuous cycle for women in developing nations; a cycle of education, hope and empowerment...period.
Written by Thenu Herath
(Director of Outreach, TABOO)