Nicholas Kristof said many great things when he spoke at the University Club on Sept. 10, but one statement hit me hardest.
“The cause of your time is going to be this gender inequity in so many countries around the globe,” he said.
It couldn’t be more accurate, and it allowed me to reflect on an inspiring woman who only reinforces the idea that a woman with an education can do anything
Throughout my years of high school in São Paulo, Brazil, I was part of a program called FALA, where high school students taught English to underprivileged workers from the slum nearby for free on Saturday mornings.
I taught Luana Alves when I was an intermediate level teacher. She had already been in the program for three years. Although her English wasn’t perfect, you could tell she was a determined student. She did all her homework, participated in our two-hour class and even asked me for extra websites that she could use during the week for studying. She did all this while balancing working and taking college classes.
Luana loved everything about FALA, and she said she “could never learn this much in any other place.”
Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and co-author of “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” highlights and focuses on writing about woman’s issues around the world.
According to Kristof, many families in developing countries won’t contribute more than $14 to their daughter’s education. This then leads to girls dropping out of school and having more children compared to educated women.
“You can read about these issues. You can even watch them,” Kristof said. “But they only become real when you encounter them directly.”
Today, Luana is an au pair for a family in Chevy Chase. She’s been in the U.S. for six months and her English is flawless.
“Being here professionally is essential for my career,” Luana said. “I want to work with foreign trade when I go back to Brazil.”
Her goals for the future are to keep studying and traveling. “In a big city like São Paulo, the job competition is hard, and speaking English is a big deal.”
She’s come a long way from a girl who spoke no English, living in one of São Paulo’s biggest slums. Now she’s a woman who speaks fluent English and lives, works and studies in the U.S.
Luana wasn’t the only hard working woman I had the pleasure to teach. There was Karina, an aspiring model who asked to borrow all my books in English and after class would show me the extra homework she did during the week. There was also Renata, who used English professionally to get a raise at her job and was the most avid participator I have ever taught.
One of the best escalades out of poverty is education. Women are respected when they bring money to the table. When women earn money, it changes the family dynamic and often benefits the children. Education, especially for women in developing countries, should be higher up on the political agenda.
Luana, Karina and Renata are proof that if given the opportunities they deserve, woman can prosper and benefit society as a whole.
Julia Greenwald is a sophomore in School of Communication.