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Student Blog: International Day of the Girl Child

11 October 2018

In 2012, the United Nations declared that October 11th has been marked as the International Day of the Girl. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. On 11 October 2018, Surval’s Charity Committee hosted a variety of fascinating events for the whole school: a student-led assembly; a presentation from a guest-speaker; an online conference with girl students from schools in Ohio and California; and a fund-raising cinema evening.

Charity Committee member Nastya, G11, Russia, describes the day and shares her reflections on the importance of education...

“School is a place where a girl learns how to fulfil her dreams…”

In 2012, the United Nations declared that October 11th “has been marked as the International Day of the Girl. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.” On 11th of October 2018, Surval’s Charity Committee and Charity Club members, with the help of Surval’s Charity Coordinator, Mademoiselle Spigarelli, hosted a variety of fascinating events for the whole school: a student-led assembly; a presentation from a guest-speaker; an online conference with girl students from schools in Ohio and California; and a fund-raising cinema evening.

The day started with an inspirational assembly led by the students. Beforehand, the assembly organisers had made a colourful wall display featuring the words “Girls need to go to school because…” During the assembly, every single student, teacher and member of staff were given post-its to complete the sentence with their own reason. Here are some of the finished sentences:

“...they deserve the opportunity to build their own future.” (Gimena, LA, Mexico.)

“ is very important to get an education, as it is vital step towards a successful and prosperous future, and to pass on knowledge to the following generations. ” (Mariia Z, G10, Ukraine)

“...they need to get a good education in order to have a bright future.” (Laura, G9, Kazakhstan)

“...every person deserves an education; an opportunity to be successful and equal.” (Sofia, G10, Mexico.)

“...if they acquire knowledge and critical thinking skills, they will become the best version of themselves, be able to make the most of their lives and be able to be a part of making our world a safe, healthy and happy place to be.” (Miss MacLeod, Teacher of English, Scotland)

Girls need to go to school because education is vital. It helps us to have healthier and happier lives.  An educated woman has skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better person, a responsible citizen and - if she chooses - a wise parent. Girls should go to school because learning is the greatest way to find out who you are truly capable of being. School is a place where a girl learns to dream and learns how to fulfil her dreams. School is where a girl will educate herself and then change her community and the world for the better.

However, in today’s thought-provoking presentation by Gillian Rolet, a former primary school teacher who now works for the Varkey Foundation, a global charitable foundation focused on improving the standards of education for underprivileged children, we learned that there are currently 131 million girls in the world who are not receiving an education. Every child deserves to reach his or her full potential, but, unfortunately, gender inequalities in the lives of these 131 million girls and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality: “They are repressed by the ingrained cultural prejudices against girls; by a system of belief that thinks that a girl’s only role is to have babies,” Ms Rolet explained, helping to illuminate to her audience one of the key problems that needs to be overcome.

As part of the presentation, Ms Rolet showed us a short film clip of one of the Varkey Foundation’s Ghanaian classrooms. The girls’ teacher asked them what message they wanted to share with girls around the world on IDOTG. Taking the microphone, one little girl declared: “I want all my fellow students to work hard so they can have a great future.” I was very moved by her words, and the whole audience was then touched when the whole class chorused: “Hello to our friends at Surval Montreux!” I am already looking forward to recording a message to send back to them.

This video made a strong impression on me, opening my eyes to the lives of these Ghanaian girls, and the important similarities between us. Like me, they are ready for new adventures; they are full of hope for their future and willing to work hard to achieve their potential. These girls have faith that things for women can change. Thanks to the Varkey Foundation, they are being given the opportunity to gain an education and have the power to incite change. They inspire me to stand up and do everything I can to fight for gender equality.  They make me realise that every single person in the world matters, and that by joining together, we can make a difference. 

Continuing with the theme of giving girls a voice, after school, six students from Foundation Year to Grade 12 took part in an online “Girl Talk” with girl students from schools in Ohio and California. This is the second annual “Girl Talk” in conjunction with IDOTG, which aims to empower girls by giving them a platform for discussion and reminding them of their unity. So what do girls talk about when they talk about female empowerment? Here is a selection of some of the most powerful statements (unfortunately there was too much discussion to catch the names of all the girls at the Ohio and California schools, both of which had about twenty students in their classroom):

 “A conference like this shows that we can all come together - it reminds us that there’s so many of us out there.” 

 “We are our own fight and we are our own people and we should speak up!”

“If we stay quiet, things will never change; if we speak up, we can make a change and make people conscious of what is happening.” (Surval’s Rubi, G9, Mexico)

“Social media is a powerful tool for us to share opinions and unite, but it is so damaging in the false ideas of perfection that it presents to girls.” (Surval’s Lucia, G12, Spain)

In response to Lucia’s question about how we can prevent girls bullying one another: “We need to look for similarities to bond us together and then use our differences to make us even stronger.”

“We need to teach girls to get out of the mindset of putting one another down to make themselves feel better; that if they see this happening, they say ‘That’s not okay. Stop it.’”

In response to Surval’s Raquel, FY, Mexico, asking what everyone thinks is one of the biggest issues women face: “People trying to push us into boxes that we can’t fit inside, using language that undermines girls - ‘you punch like a girl, you throw like a girl’.”

“We need to stick together and remind each other that we all are beautiful and we all have power and we all need to encourage each other.” 

After the conference, the Surval students chatted about how uplifting they had found the smart, enthusiastic and engaged girls that they had spoken to, and how it had inspired in them a greater desire to think about how they personally can be part of positive change. 

In the evening, we had a cinema night, which had been organised in order to fundraise for the Florence Nightingale International Foundation “Girl Child Education Fund”. The girls had an excellent time watching a cognitive film, “Hidden Figures”, and Mrs Reid baked brownies and cookies for us to sell as cinema snacks.  In total, the event raised nearly CHF700 for this wonderful cause - thank you to everyone who bought a ticket and a brownie!

Thus, this day became unforgettable and important in the life of every girl here at Surval, due to the blend of information, discussion and action; not only did we learn a lot, but we were also given the opportunity, through the fundraising, to help other girls to be educated, successful and HAPPY in their lives. Looking to our future, Ms Rolet also encouraged us to “Open your eyes to the amazing jobs in the charity sector, which is looking for bright, motivated girls like you who have an awareness of issues and want to make a difference.”

Surval empowers girls to reach their full potential, but it also empowers them to help others to do the same and inspire people to change. In our school we transform ourselves in order to make a difference to the world around us and we are very happy to support a foundation that will change other girls’ lives. Of course, we cannot help everyone, but every one of us can help someone, and we can start with the person nearest us; as Ms Rolet said, we need to remember the power of our female friendships. 

For a long time, I have been asking myself: “Who am I?” Yesterday, thanks to Ms Rolet’s presentation, I finally understood how to answer that question. The only way I can find out who I truly am is by serving others; because when we discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. My purpose is to use my education and voice to help others. It is a privilege to be educated to a high standard, yet I believe it should not be a privilege, but a right: every girl in the world should be given an education that will enable her to have a high quality of life. We are all equal and we should all be treated as equal.