Finding My Voice ~ “Let Girls Learn” Campaign ~ #62MillionGirls –
In school, I learned that I had a VOICE. That Voice became a high school English/Reading teacher who gave Voices to students spanning 30 years. That Voice became a Mom and Grandma who gave Voices to my children and now grandchildren.
Through the gift of education, I was given this chance at a Voice.
#62MillionGirls don’t have that chance.
This is why First Lady Michelle Obama is championing the most important “Let Girls Learn” Initiative –
Working together to open the doors of education for girls around the world.
To educate a girl is to build a healthier family, a stronger community, and a brighter future. Unfortunately today, 62 million girls around the world are not in school. Half of them are adolescents. We know that countries with more girls in secondary school tend to have lower maternal mortality rates, lower infant mortality rates, lower rates of HIV/AIDS, and better child nutrition. But too often, a girl who could change her world for the better is locked out of that future by the circumstances of her birth or the customs of her community.
We know that a girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community. That is why President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be championing our efforts to help adolescent girls around the globe attend and complete school through the Let Girls Learn initiative, which will build upon the public engagement campaign the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched last summer. Let Girls Learn is a government-wide effort that will leverage the investments we have made and success we have achieved in global primary school, and expand them to help adolescent girls complete their education. A key part of Let Girls Learn will be to encourage and support community-led solutions to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.
I still remember the teachers who gave me the gift of a Voice.
I was a shy child, a lover of words, a bookworm. I loved traveling through the written word to magical places. I loved writing words, too. Using words, experimenting with words – words that became little poems and stories.
I loved school. I loved being read to. I loved learning.
But I didn’t love speaking. I didn’t love being called upon to answer a question. I dreaded heading to the chalkboard to complete some sentence-or-other or finish a math problem – and then have to explain it.
But my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Elliot, at North Hampton Elementary School in North Hampton, NH, gave me my first inkling that a Voice is a powerful tool.
Mr. Elliot announced one day that our entire class would be participating in what he called a 7th-8th Grade Oratorical Contest. What did this mean? Each student would choose a topic, pose a question related to this topic, research this topic, write an essay/speech, deliver this speech to our class (with random visitors – oh, that could be the principal, PTA members, other teachers, parents – oh, nice!), vote on which 2 speeches/class would be delivered to the entire school body and parents/guests, and be judged on all of the above by a distinguished panel.
It was required.
I still remember the panic. It was 1964-65, 50 years ago, and I still remember the panic. When I spoke aloud in an otherwise silent classroom, I heard my tiny voice as an echo from somewhere outside of me. Even being among classmates/friends or a favorite teacher, that voice seemed so remote, so faraway, so time-warped with a 1/2-second delay.
I never, ever wanted to hear that voice.
I liked the word and rhyme and dialogue voices floating around inside my head – that comforting voice of me.
But anyway. It seemed that Oratorical Contest thing was a go. A must-do. I just had to figure out how to find that voice for which Mr. Elliot was listening.
It just never, ever occurred to me that that Voice would change my life.
Mr. Elliot walked each of us 7th graders through the dynamics of questioning, researching, note-taking, outlining, developing conclusions, re-thinking, writing concisely, sharing information, re-developing conclusions — like well-oiled 12-year old machines.
Then came the final writing projects. The final edits. The feeling comfortable with our words on paper, words developed so carefully and thoroughly with great accuracy.
And the putting our VOICES to our words. Practicing first with one paragraph each — at the podium, to our classmates. Then two paragraphs. Three paragraphs. Homework assignments to practice our Voices at home. With parents. Friends. Anyone!
Mr. Elliot accomplished this with 2 classes of 7th graders and 2 classes of 8th graders — approximately 100 students in all. 100 topics.
My own Voice, my own thoughts, my very own words did not seem so small and echoed and 1/2-second delayed anymore. Mr. Elliot had stressed eye contact, volume, rate, projection and confidence. Confidence in our research. Confidence in our words. Confidence in our VOICES.
My piece was selected as one entry from our class to deliver to that new, vast audience of the entire school body, parents/teachers and a panel of judges.
Of course, I was nervous. But my Voice had been gifted to me by Mr. Elliot himself, the teacher who had given me this chance.
#62MillionGirls across this great big world of ours have never been given this chance, gifted with this chance to hear their Voices soar through a classroom, an auditorium, a meeting, a crowd.
#62MillionGirls have never been given this chance to hear their Voices, their words, soaring through space and time with their ideas and thoughts and words penetrating the silence and entering the minds of others. Changing themselves. Changing others.
I found my Voice that day. I won a book that day. I have carried that book around to every dorm, apartment or home I’ve ever lived in (believe me, there have been many!). This book is the symbol of my Voice…
I wanted to be like Mr. Elliot and maybe, just maybe, some day help kids like me find their Voices.
My family moved from North Hampton, NH and that school I loved so much the following summer, the summer of 1965. I found myself in a very large city junior high school, in Warwick, RI, where I felt lost as a young, displaced teenaged girl.
But I never lost my Voice.
I don’t remember dynamic assignments and deep study at that new junior high, and I certainly did not enjoy being the new girl — but my Voice was not that echoed, remote, time-warped, frightened, delayed voice. This is the amazing thing about finding your Voice — it’s always there. It doesn’t have to always be on-duty. It must never monopolize. It should question or debate or teach, but never with arrogance or just to hear your own words. It is a gift to be used carefully.
In high school, I chose an elective in which to use my Voice — a Public Speaking class. My teacher was Mr. Desmond. He was very much like Mr. Elliot — didn’t take no for an answer, but directed toward his yes. When I stood at the podium the first time, Mr. Desmond leaned in intently, as he did for everyone, and listened.
There is no greater teacher-student interaction than listening. Hearing the Voice of the other. Mr. Desmond is the teacher who encouraged me to become a teacher. I knew that this was the path I wanted to take.
I would become an English teacher with a Master’s Degree in Reading. To teach words and rhyme and dialogue and thinking and writing — and about finding a VOICE in this world — well, these things change lives.
#62MillionGirls need this opportunity, this great gift.
We know that a girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community.
In school, I learned that I had a Voice and that a Voice is a powerful tool.
#62MillionGirls don’t get that chance.
As a teacher, I taught my students to have Voices.
#62MillionGirls don’t get that chance.
As a Mom and now a Grandma, I guided my children and now guide my grandchildren to find their Voices.
#62MillionGirls may never get that chance.
A key part of Let Girls Learn will be to encourage and support community-led solutions to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.
We must give them the chance.
Visit #62MillionGirls.com ~