Power of education: Inspiring stories from four continents

A girl and a woman in Burkina Faso. An Afghan refugee family in Greece. A teacher in India. An entrepreneur in Guatemala.

These are the stories on the power of education currently featured at an immersive exhibition entitled “Education transforms lives” that UNESCO has set up at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on the sidelines of the High-level Political Forum.

Each inspiring story vividly brings to life the aspirations of Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. The experiences portrayed in these powerful personal testimonies capture how small individual steps across the globe are helping to advance and ensure the right to education for every woman, man and child.

“I don’t know what the future has in store for me but this is my second chance and I don’t want to waste it.”

Photo credit : Sophie Garcia

Awa Traore, 21, is working from morning to night to catch up. She grew up in the tiny village of Banzon in Burkina Faso where she completely missed out on schooling. When the chance came up, she moved 30 km away to the city of Bobo-Dioulasso where she lodges with her uncle and aunt and in return shops, cooks and cleans for them. Her days are long. After dropping her nephew at school, she sets off to the market. Only when her daily chores are done can she turn to her books and prepare for her literacy class at 6.30pm. Awa knows she has a lot of ground to make up for and that other women with more education than her are having difficulty finding work. Despite the odds, she is determined to use this second chance at literacy as a stepping stone to a profession in the health field.

“I feel very lucky to go to school every day. My mother did not get that chance.”

Photo credit : Sophie Garcia

Head down, serious, 11-year-old Rachidatou Sana concentrates on getting her answer exactly right. Already an outstanding pupil at Kua C school in Bobo-Dioulasso, she loves mathematical problem-solving but will have to find her own solution in the fight to keep on with her studies. Like many girls her age in Burkina Faso, Rachidatou was born to poor parents (her mother is illiterate) and is daily torn between home chores, earning a living and studying to better her situation. All she wants is an equal chance, the same as everyone else. She plans to go to college to train as a nurse ‘so I can help others and my family.’

“If Matin couldn’t study here he would be very behind compared to other children.”

Photo credit : Olivier Jobard

Shahnaz Karimi, 24, her husband Nasir Rasouli, 34, and their eight-year-old livewire son Matin arrived in Lesbos in August 2018. Originally from Herat in Afghanistan, the Rasouli family travelled from their first adopted home in Iran seeking a better life. Now they live alongside 1,300 other residents at the Kara Tepe village. Both came with professions: Shahnaz was a beautician and Nasir a painter and decorator. In Lesbos, Matin goes to primary school while his parents attend English classes and art classes. Matin is already better than his parents in English. For the Rasouli family, education fills their long days, gives them a much-needed sense of normality and offers hope of work and a better future.

“The biggest change education has made in my life is that I can work and add my money to the expenses for the house, to buy food and help with my children’s schooling.”

Photo credit : James Rodríguez

As a little girl, Margarita Pelico lived next door to her local school and wanted to follow the children she saw on their way to class. Her parents, less convinced that a girl needed education, had to be persuaded. Margarita comes from a family of nine in the village of Los Cipreses, a rural area of Totonicapán, Guatemala where most men are farmers while the women weave. They are members of the Mayan-K’iche ethnicity whose mother tongue is K’iche. Margarita’s school closed down and, by the time it reopened, she was way behind. Aged 13 she discovered a free flexible adult correspondence education programme designed for older girls who missed out. She learned to add and subtract going to the market with her teacher, and to calculate while they were sewing. Determined to pursue her studies, she was able to go on to secondary school and college. Now a social worker and running her own weaving company, she is dedicated to helping other girls follow the same path to education – and sends her own five-year-old to the same school that she once attended.

“I thought that teaching people would be giving them the gift of a lifetime”

Photo credit : Jyothy Karat

Teacher Prathibha Balakrishnan, 38, came to the village of Kadichanokolli deep in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in southern India in 2008 with a mission to teach the Betta Karumba mountain people. There was no electricity, no school and no healthcare. She joined hands with another extraordinary woman, namely Badichi, 44. Badichi, a tribal matriarch with seven children, has very little schooling but an innate understanding of the power of education. She worked hard as a housemaid to pay the tuition fees for all of her children and her grand-child Anitha who was abandoned by her parents. The Betta Kurumba, a secluded people who mostly work on tea and coffee plantations, have high levels of illiteracy. When Prathibha needed an ally to persuade them, Badichi went into action. Both women gained in confidence, gathering support to successfully petition the local government to install a primary school, roads and electricity. Along the way, Badichi’s daughters Seetha, 17, and Vasanthi, 19, who are pupils of Prathibha, returned the favour by teaching her the local language. Some villagers speak Prathibha’s native Tamil but are now taught in their own language. Seetha is now in 11th grade, Vasanthi has enrolled to become a nurse in a hospital nearby and both speak three languages, a leap forward for a village where most adults are illiterate.

The exhibition is organized in partnership with Education Above All, the Qatar Foundation, the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the United Nations as well as the co-chairs of the Group of Friends and Lifelong Learning (Argentina, Czech Republic, Japan, Kenya and Norway).

It will be on display throughout July and August 2019 at the UN Headquarters. A full multimedia online gallery will be available on the UNESCO website in the coming weeks.

/Public Release. View in full here.