The following is a guest post from Dr. Molly Maguire Teas, Senior Advisor for Education for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs.
I am writing today from the Women in the World Summit put on by Newsweek & The Daily Beast in New York City. The event has a special significance for me because one of the featured participants is a young Nepali woman named Suma Tharu. Suma is one of the 1,200 young female scholars that my Bureau has supported through our partnership with Room to Read. 10x10, a global action campaign and groundbreaking film, brought Suma to New York for the Women in the World Summit to share her story.
Suma was originally slated to sing a song she wrote on the last day of the event. But, after hearing Suma rehearse, Tina Brown, the Founder of the Women in the World Summit, decided to change the entire agenda and add Suma’s song to the opening of the event as well.
It was a fitting beginning. Suma sang about her life as a Nepali girl who was sold into indentured servitude by her own family. After six years of work, a non-governmental organization rescued her, and Room to Read provided her with a scholarship and the associated tutoring, mentoring and life skills training she needed to enroll in school and reclaim her right to a dignified life. While her song broke the collective hearts of the audience when she sang, “Mother, why did you give birth to a daughter? Did you want to see me suffer?”, her confidence, her clarity about how education has changed her life, and her commitment to make life better for other girls inspired us all.
Meeting Suma before the event began was a joy for me for many reasons. One reason was the simple fact that Suma not only survived her ordeal but is clearly thriving and loving her new life and identity as a “pardeko keti” or school girl. Those who have read my previous DipNote blogs on State.gov know that I began my career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal nearly thirty years ago. At that time, I worked as a science teacher in a remote mountain village school with no electricity, water or latrine. Suma reminded me of the tiny group of girls in my village who managed to stay in school all the way to sixth grade, and who, despite long treks to and from their homes and the almost total lack of books and materials, were so thrilled to be in school that they, like Suma today, positively glowed. It was that small group of girls what also inspired me to commit the rest of my professional life to improving schools and education for girls.
In a most befitting way, Secretary Clinton, in her closing remarks at the Summit, highlighted Suma and the support that State Department’s SCA Bureau provided in changing her life and the lives of many like her. The inspiring image of Suma interacting with the Secretary of State and Oscar-award-winning actress Meryl Streep back stage is a symbol of what is possible when girls and women are empowered.
The State Department is clearly committed to ensuring that girls’ education programs like Room to Read’s are expanded, and we are shining a spotlight on stories like Suma’s, so that others will witness the power of education and be motivated to support proven solutions that are advancing education for girls around the world.
Learn more about Suma's story and how you can help girls like her across Asia and Africa at www.roomtoread.org/meetsuma