Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
The devastation is like a typhoon and a tsunami combined forces, blogs videographer Michael Angelo Suarez, who travelled with Plan to Salcedo in Eastern Samar before, during and after Typhoon Haiyan hit.
14 November 2013: We arrived in Tacloban City on Thursday, 7 November, and travelled to Salcedo, a community positioned on a small peninsula at the bottom of Eastern Samar Province. The Plan team was preparing and pre-positioning safe drinking water kits and supporting the community leaders to evacuate the community to higher ground.
We get so many typhoons every year here in the Philippines, it can be hard to convince people to evacuate every time. One of the Barangay [Philippines local municipalities] leaders said that people can be hard-headed when being told to evacuate and often leave it right until the moment the water rises. Others felt that the evacuation point wasn’t safe – or chose not to leave because they had elderly relatives or family members who were sick.
We spent the day documenting the preparations and then travelled back to Borongan – a few hours drive from Salcedo. We had planned to depart the next morning, but the storm was coming too quickly so we decided to stay there and ride it out.
Typhoon and tsunami combined
On Friday, the storm hit – Borongan did not feel its impact as badly as other places, but it was still unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Plan has an office in Borongan that is less than 1km from the ocean and I ventured out briefly towards the end of the storm to see what was going on – the water there rose up to 7m around the office and surrounding areas. It was as though a typhoon and tsunami had combined forces.
As soon as the storm had ended, the Plan team tried to return to Salcedo to check on communities. We only got a short way before having to turn back as it got dark and trees, power lines and debris blocked the way, an ominous sign. It was a long night wondering about what lay ahead of us the next day.
On Saturday, early in the morning, we set out again to try and reach the communities affected by the storms – the team needed to assess the situation and understand what help they would need. My job was to document it and share their stories with the world.
Washed out to sea
This time we used 2 motorbikes,2 people on each. It was the hardest ride of my life – we left at 9am and didn’t reach Salcedo until 6pm – at several points we had to lift our bikes over trees and other debris blocking the roads. My colleague and I even fell off our bike at one point as a power line got caught in the wheels. Luckily we were going slowly and injuries were minor.
On the way to Salcedo we passed through several towns – all affected to varying degrees by the power of the typhoon. The worst was Hernani - most houses had been washed out to sea or destroyed. The ashphalt had risen up together like mountain ranges combining – the force required to do that is incredible.
The Hernani cemetery had also been damaged and cadavers were strewn across the sand. Old and new bodies combined. Only a few were wrapped in cloth by that point – the sound of wailing cut the
When we finally reached Salcedo it was almost unrecognisable from the beachside town we had been in less than 2 days earlier. Relief goods were being prepared, but seemed insignificant compared to the scale of the need. The mayor told me that people were just expecting hard rain but not water from the sea – again, like a tsunami and typhoon all in one.
We stayed in Salcedo that night in the destroyed municipalhall. Rain was pouring through holes in the ceiling but I felt lucky to have any sort of roof at all – and to feel safe. I slept on 3 chairs, others slept on tables or whatever they could find in the swamped hall. Plan’s office was also damaged and uninhabitable. They had a generator but didn’t use it as gasoline was already starting to become scarce, something that’s only worsened as time’s gone on. It’s strange to sleep in a town where many people have died.
On Sunday, we visited more towns and talked to people to understand their situation – but I knew the footage I had needed to be shared with the rest of the world. Planes weren’t available so I decided on Monday to return to Manila by road – it took 24 hours by bus and ferry but I made it. It wasn’t until I finally got phone reception again that I realised the Plan team had been really worried about me – I hadn’t been able to contact them since the storm hit!
I am working on editing the footage that I took and it’s hard to look at – there is so much loss and suffering and people urgently need help. I’m incredibly tired after this week, but I am focused on sharing these stories with the world – we need all the help we can get.
12 November 2013: Trees have been torn from the ground and lie uprooted at the side of the road. Buildings are reduced to rubble. Electricity polls have toppled over. Boats lie upside down on the ground and huge 6-wheel lorries are overturned.
This is the road I am taking to Tacloban City, an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Tacloban has never seen devastation like this. Before Yyphoon Haiyan roared though the city on Friday, it was a beautiful place. Right now, everything has been turned upside down.
I have been travelling, together with my colleagues from Plan, to the affected area all day, but we’re yet to arrive.
We are on the outskirts of Tacloban, just 5 to 10 minutes away, says the driver, but the scene is chaotic. The roads are narrow and all I can see are people walking.
The car is moving slowly, very slowly – we want to get there so we can carry out assessments, distribute relief and check on our own staff there.
Bodies by the road
As we get nearer, the smell of dead bodies pervades. Some of them are littered by the side of the road, mixed in with the rubbish, but people just ignore them.
When you see it, when you can sense it, smell it and feel it - it’s awful.
There’s no food or water here and all around me, people are desperately trying to find something to eat.
Girls and boys are carrying packs of noodles and dry foods, grabbing anything they can find from shattered shops. It’s difficult to stop and ask how they’re feeling when they’re lumbered down with so many things.
Now, looting is taking place because these people are desperate to survive.
They are facing a depressing scenario and for a brief moment, I wonder whether I would do the same in that situation.
One of my colleagues from Plan went to talk to some store owners and they say everything has gone. Now, people are looking to a damaged factory for food supplies, but the owner says he’s given everything away too.
I’ve see people walking towards the city and coming back with food. Apparently people are selling food at the entrance to the city, while concern remains high from the military that those who try to enter Tacloban just want to loot it.
Destruction as far as the eye can see
The city is in chaos and destruction remains as far as the eye can see - and it’s something that 19-year-old Charlene is living through.
Charlene is living in a temporary shelter, after her home was washed away. The only thing that remains from her kitchen is the counter. The rest is gone.
She used to live near one of the official government buildings, made out of brick, but even that could not withstand the force of Typhoon Haiyan.
Charlene says that people are starting to get sick, and what they need right now is food, water and medicine. The teenager wants to stay with her aunties and her brother and she longs to go back to school, to normality.
Trying to stay strong
She tells me she is trying to stay strong, that she is praying for other victims affected by the typhoon and that we can get through this together.
Her bravery is a testament to the people of of the Philippines. Around me, I see families shielding their children from the aftermath of this typhoon, while one 4-year-old boy is playing at the side of the road, unaware of the magnitude of this disaster.
We’re yet to see the state of the school and the evacuation centres, who knows what they will be like, who knows what will happen next.
Our car is still slowly edging towards Tacloban and it seems we will be here for some time. I think I will have to sleep here tonight.
Read more of Hatai's blog posts
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Plan's Hatai Limprayoonyong, reports from the Philippines, where emergency relief teams are providing aid to survivors of typhoon Haiyan.
10 November 2013: Travelling into a disaster zone is a strange thing, you leave “normality” behind you and travel deeper into a world turned upside down by the force of nature. Plans change, the unexpected happens regularly, and a sense of dread at what you will find on reaching your destination pervades everything.
We left Manila early this morning, heading towards Tacloban, a city of just over 200,000 people that has, by all accounts, been completely devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda here in the Philippines).
Tacloban sits on the shores of the Philippine province of Leyte and reports are coming in of bodies lying on the street. We don’t have the latest figures to hand but some are estimating that this typhoon has killed more than 10,000 people in Tacloban alone, a figure that’s hard to comprehend.
Tacloban Airport was destroyed by the typhoon so we flew to Legaspe City, then transferred to a ferry. On the ferry we met survivors of the typhoon who had been in Tacloban. "Everything is gone” was a common phrase.
As part of our work to prepare for Typhoon Haiyan we prepositioned emergency supplies in the areas that would be worst hit - enough for 40,000 people. But as the stories of Haiyan start to emerge we are not even sure that those weren’t also destroyed in the storm.
Midway through our trip we received new information about East Samar and about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Tacloban. People there are desperate for food, water and medical supplies and are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to try and get them.
After a quick discussion about the ways we could best provide assistance we diverted to a base 3 hours drive from Tacloban - and 4 hours from East Samar, a region that has been ominously quiet since the typhoon hit on Friday. We don’t know if our Plan colleagues and their families are ok either - one of our team is hoping to find his wife and children in East Samar when we visit. He hasn’t heard from them since Thursday.
It was frustrating not to reach our destination today but we need to make sure that we can provide the best assistance possible when we do - and that means going where we are most needed - and doing it in a way where we don’t add to the problems faced by the community.
From what little information we do have, we believe that East Samar was hit even harder than Tacloban. When we look at the footage of Tacloban playing on TV screens across the world it is hard to imagine a place that is hurting even more.
Tomorrow we will split into 2 groups and head to East Samar and Tacloban City - we don’t know what we will find there but we will be working around the clock to assess the situation and assist the people of these badly affected areas who need our support now more than ever before.
Read more of Hatai's blog posts
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1 November 2013: Disaster survivors are alike, but every disaster victim suffers in their own way.
I learned this lesson not from Leo Tolstoy’s opening line in Anna Karenina, but when I was in India’s cyclone-hit areas last week, coordinating an emergency response on behalf of Plan International.
This lesson was driven home by 5-year-old Basanti and her friends, who I found perched on the doorstep of a brightly-coloured home in the village of Gajapati Nagar. The group was busy drying their rain-sodden schoolbooks in the sun. At a distance, the books looked intact and appeared to have escaped the clutches of the deadly cyclone that devastated their village on 12 Oct. On closer inspection, the books were unreadable, with ink marks smudged all over the pages.
With this simple act, Basanti and her friends were determined to salvage what they could. Even now, words cannot explain the spirit this young girl represents to me.
Disaster survivors are alike with their stories, inspiring hope. But the way in which the girl and her fellow villagers fought the storm is not just a tale of survival – after all, this coastal village was at the centre of the storm. The common thread that binds their stories together is the way they fought nature’s fury by putting simple measures in place to save their lives.
This is known as disaster preparedness and risk reduction.
Incidentally, this is the same Indian state that learnt its lesson in 1999 the hard way. But what changed the game? That year, a “super-cyclone,” packing wind speeds of about 300 km per hour, ripped through Odisha, leaving over 10,000 people dead. It was difficult to come across anyone who hadn’t lost someone.
Fast forward to October 2013 and history wasn’t about to repeat itself.
Cyclone Phailin wreaked havoc across Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It affected over 12 million people, claiming at least 36 lives and destroying more than 650,000 hectares of crops and over 300,000 houses.
In some villages, the devastation is worse than 1999. So what saved thousands of lives this time? There are 4 theories:
- Science and technology.
- Responsive government.
- Vigilant media.
- Communities trained on disaster preparedness.
The government’s investment in weather prediction technology resulted in accurate projections about how and where the cyclone would unfold. A cyclone alert was issued 5 days in advance. Timely action by governments in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh resulted in evacuating over 900,000 people away from the danger zone. Media also played a life-saving role through live broadcasts and an overarching omnipresence that put the government and its actions under scrutiny.
It’s clear the 1999 cyclone was a wake-up call for the Indian government, as disaster risk reduction measures followed suit. Donors like UNDP, ECHO and UKAID funded innovative projects, some focusing on children. Today, Basanti and her friends are living proof it worked.
What to do now
While part one of this story has gone according to the script, this tale is not over.
With reports of worsening floods, providing life-saving relief, getting children back into school and rebuilding communities is a huge task. Will the government pay the same attention demonstrated during the recovery efforts?
For Basanti and her friends, I hope so. Now the government must focus on providing clean water and sanitation facilities to reduce the outbreak of disease. Farmers and fishermen need urgent financial assistance to rebuild lives.
During my visit I came across schools and early learning centres that had been destroyed. The government says it needs approximately $50 million to rebuild schools – an essential investment, especially for girls.
According to Plan’s new report, girls are more likely to be pulled out of schools during emergencies – and least likely to return after.
Therefore, getting children back to school and ensuring their safety are building blocks that can strengthen recovery and shape the next generation. Relief and recovery must adhere to internationally recognised Sphere humanitarian standards*.
Electricity lines have been knocked down, and a lack of lighting can amplify threats, especially for girls, whose needs for protection, healthcare and education in emergency settings are usually not recognised by governments and humanitarian agencies.
The Ganjam district has the highest HIV prevalence in India. Health, especially the sexual and reproductive health of young people, should also be a priority in relief and recovery efforts.
You can’t stop a cyclone, but you can fight a storm, reduce its impact and save lives through disaster preparedness.
So, if you are a millionaire (or if you know one), here’s an investment proposal: The best return for your money is not trading stock – it’s disaster risk reduction.
And even more importantly, if you invest in children, especially girls, you might be able to multiply the results over generations. Just look at Basanti and her friends – they’re living testimonies.
Read about Plan’s global emergencies work
*Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
11 October 2013: Watching the news these days, it’s almost inevitable that there will be a headline on the latest devastating disaster in a developing country. Headline images often show flooded fields, distressed girls and boys sheltering in damaged school buildings, and women and men registering in camps to receive access to food, shelter or water.
As Plan’s Global Specialist for Adolescent Girls in Emergencies, I am often sent to these disasters, and I often wonder about the difference between the images portrayed and the communities I meet.
What the images aren’t able to portray is the gendered way in which disasters are experienced. Men, women, boys and girls experience disasters in different ways and usually pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities are exacerbated in emergencies.
This means that adolescent girls – on the lowest spectrum of any power hierarchies based on gender and age – face specific and unique vulnerabilities and threats within emergencies.
Shocking report findings
Plan’s newly released Because I am a Girl campaign report, In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls and Disasters, shows that adolescent girls are consistently missed in these interventions because they fall between the two recognised and targeted categories of women and children.
Such an oversight is shocking, particularly because adolescent girls are some of the most affected by unsafe environments and negative actions taken by families desperate to survive.
These include child and forced marriage, pulling girls out of school, and transactional sex for food or money. What’s more, the effects of these short-term coping strategies will last well beyond the end of an emergency, impacting on a girl’s wellbeing, education and health for the rest of her life and impacting on her children, the next generation.
Listen to girls
However, Plan’s report also highlights capacities of adolescent girls, and argues that listening to the voices of adolescent girls in emergencies, ensuring their participation, and engaging them as actors in disaster risk reduction and humanitarian responses will ensure that their rights and their needs are met in disasters.
The participation and engagement will also be, in itself, an exercise in empowerment. When asked what they want and need in a response, girls consistently prioritise education and protection, yet these two areas make up a very small part of humanitarian budgets overall and on average receive less than half the funding requested.
Reaching Jihadist brides
Recently I worked in Timbuktu in Mali, where I met two girls, Fadimata and Annajara, who had both been ‘married’ to Islamic Jihadists during the occupation of Timbuktu in 2012. Their stories are similar to many other girls - they were forcibly married, locked in a room, and “used” (raped) by different men on a daily basis.
Annajara lost a baby at 6 months, Fadimata, who is 14, has a 6-month-old baby girl, Assietu. Assietu is without birth registration, is not immunised, and is already chronically malnourished.
When the military came and the Jihadists fled, Fadimata and Annajara, like all the other ‘brides’ were left abandoned. But the abuse and violence they suffered didn’t end when the Jihadists fled, these girls are commonly referred to in Timbuktu as the ‘Jihadist leftovers’.
They are entirely stigmatised and discriminated against and certainly don’t attend school or any child-friendly space that Plan is running – and they won’t, they are too scared to leave their homes (most of them are back with their parents).
It is very clear that without interventions designed to specifically reach girls like Fadimata and Annajara, AND interventions to reduce stigma and discrimination against these girls, then babies like Assietu will grow up as ‘Jihadist children’, completely excluded and marginalised – if they get to grow up at all.
Read Plan’s In Double Jeopardy report
Join Plan’s Because I am a Girl campaign
10 October 2013: Did you know that more than 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020 if current rates continue? That's 39,000 girls married off every day.
It's a shocking statistic, and no less shocking every time I quote it to policy makers, celebrities and politicians as I lobby for them to join Plan International in our campaign for the futures of girls around the world.
Tomorrow is the International Day of the Girl, the second ever of its kind and one that I believe is another important milestone in our fight to improve the lives of girls around the globe and help them fulfil their potential.
Vulnerable and threatened
Girls in the developing world tend to draw the short straw in life. They are intrinsically vulnerable, and face everything from the threat of early marriage and violence to the simple fact that their parents do not think girls are important enough to go to school.
Recently I travelled to South Sudan, where I met 10-year-old Martha. "My father says I'm very beautiful," she told me, explaining why she had to drop out of school last year due to the drought. "I'll bring him many cows when he marries me off. He says I shouldn't bother with education - just stay home and wait to be married."
Martha made me think of my own daughters, now grown-up, and how little they could have achieved without the education they had. For them, school was a given, but girls like Martha have little chance of escaping the cycle of poverty, discrimination and exploitation in which they find themselves.
1 in 5 out of school
Globally, 1 in 5 girls like Martha is denied a secondary education, and girls' primary school completion rates are below 50% in most poor countries.
The odds really are stacked against girls in many parts of the world, particularly those from the poorest and most marginalised communities.
Yet research shows that when girls reach their full potential, through improved status, better healthcare and education, it is an incredibly effective development tool for society as a whole.
Each extra year of a mother's schooling cuts infant mortality by between 5 and 10%. It has been estimated that universal secondary education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa could save as many as 1.8 million lives annually.
An extra year of secondary school increases a girl's potential income by 15 to 25%. An increase of only 1% in girls secondary education attendance, adds 0.3% to a country's GDP.
Give every girl an education
I call on governments and policy makers to help us give every girl a quality education. We want the issue of child marriage raised in the Human Rights Council and we want to pursue a General Assembly Resolution which addresses child marriage as a violation of children's rights.
Because a girl who makes it through both high quality primary and secondary education is less likely to experience violence or marry and have children whilst she is still a child, and more likely to be literate, healthy, survive into adulthood (as well as her children), invest her income into her family, community and country, understand her rights and be a force for change.
We know that supporting girls' education is one of the single best investments we can make to help end poverty.
It saves lives. It transforms futures. It unleashes the incredible potential of girls and their communities.
And we know that when girls reach their full potential, through improved status, better healthcare and education, it is the most effective development tool for society as a whole.
So let's put girls into school - and let every girl in the world achieve her true potential.
Get involved in Plan's activities across the world on the Day of the Girl
On World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, Emergency Response Manager Jimmy Tuhaise blogs about the impact of Plan’s work with children in conflict-hit Myanmar and Mali.
I’ve been doing this job for over 10 years. I like humanitarian work because it saves lives. What you do for a child within the first few weeks of an emergency or disaster makes a difference to the rest of their life.
For example, if Plan moves in quickly and sets up a school for a child to continue his or her education instead of waiting for the long term government project to come in, that child will catch up with other students and there will be less impact on his or her education in the long run.
For children who have witnessed dead bodies and shootings, or have seen their mothers raped during the conflicts, the trauma stays with them psychologically; they can grow up thinking that killing is normal and that seeing people dying is normal. Our psycho-social work is so important to help children grow up naturally as children.
Reaching children in Myanmar
I’ve just been deployed for 3 months to Myanmar. Plan has opened a new office here; I am deployed wherever the emergency team needs capacity to design programmes in countries that are struggling.
We have no sponsorship at all as yet in Myanmar, and there’s been war and conflict here for so many years - so you have community conflict as well as political unrest. We’re looking at about 140,000 people in the refugee camps in Rakhine State and because of the conflict, you have about another 100,000 internally displaced people – among them about 50,000 children.
These children can’t go to school because they don’t have access to quality education. Then you have land mines; lack of access to quality health services and people living between government-controlled areas and rebel-controlled areas where they can’t cross over. It’s a desperate situation.
I do believe Plan International can really make an impact on children’s lives here with our work.
Mali conflict response
Earlier this year I was deployed to Mali for 5 months. Again, the country was struggling to respond to the political emergency and I had to scale up Plan’s programmes to support around 40,000 distressed children.
The problem was that almost the whole region of Timbuktu was occupied by Islamist insurgents. During the period of Sharia law that was imposed, girls were not allowed to go to school; they were forced into marriage and there were many cases of rape and premature pregnancy.
The whole system collapsed because the region was occupied by rebels, nobody could go to school for a year, there were no health services, no food support, almost 3 quarters of the population were displaced.
Plan, again, went in as one of the first agencies at that time with a programme based around child protection, education and water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.
We constructed temporary schools, distributed school kits and teaching materials, and trained teachers. We also promoted hygiene, providing drinking water for children and running child-friendly spaces.
When you move to an area where children are really traumatised, they have nothing to do; no playing materials and nowhere to go. If you set up a child-friendly space, somewhere for them to play, it makes a difference in their lives psychologically. Those children who have dropped out of school have a smile on their faces when they start school again. You can see the impact on the children’s lives straight away, it doesn’t take years.
Some children attempt to go to school without any school supplies; no pencils, no copy books, no bags. So Plan comes in and distributes supplies to school kids - say, a bag, books, a pencil and a pen - and they can go to school again and be happy.
I guess the most important thing about this type of humanitarian work is that you do your job, and you make a difference to somebody’s life. I help someone every day, and I am proud of that.
Read about Plan’s global work in emergencies
Find out more about World Humanitarian Day* via the United Nations website
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
August 2013: As a member of YAP, better known as Plan UK’s Youth Advisory Panel, I get the opportunity to learn about the lesser known issues in developing countries, namely the problem of unregistered children.
Following the royal birth in the UK last month, it did not come as a surprise to learn the recent news of Prince George’s birth registration*. In fact, I think I can speak for most people when I say that I wouldn’t give a second thought to the fact that my own birth was legally registered when I was born.
Sadly, almost half of all children under the age of 5 are not registered, and so, in the eyes of their government, they don’t exist. These children are likely to have their rights violated, as they are considered ‘stateless’ without a nationality or citizenship. This lack of legal status can also be said of the children born to unregistered adults.
The only way a child can prove their legal identity and exist as a recognised member of society is with a birth certificate. Without being registered, a child will become invisible in their society and so any discrimination or abuse they face will go unnoticed and unchallenged. A child is less likely to be registered if they come from poor backgrounds, minority groups, or are refugees.
Access to human rights
With proof of identity, a child can grow up in a society where they are able to claim the state provided systems which are necessary to grow into healthy and prosperous adults. A child can have access to education, medical treatment and, when they are older, they will have the right to vote, marry and open a bank account.
With a national identity, the child is protected from any potential abuse or exploitation, and with the proof of age, the child is less likely to face child labour and early enforced marriage.
Freedom and security
Through being a YAP member, I have learnt that Plan is a global advocate for registering all children with the Universal Birth Registration programme, Count Every Child. It has ensured that more than 40 million people in over 30 countries have been registered so far and has aided in developing laws of 10 countries to make free birth registration possible for 153 million children.
I hope that one day - in the not too distant future - the concept of ‘stateless’ children can be eradicated, so all children will be legally recognised as belonging to a nation. And so, much like Prince George, these children can experience the freedom and security their birth certificate will give them.
*Plan is not responsible for content on external sites.
6 August 2013: We must increase investment in children’s education in states affected by conflict, such as Syria and Mali. That’s the message I’ll be taking to our partners at the USAID Education Summit this week, based on our report Investing in the Youngest: Early childhood care and development in emergencies.
Some 28 million of the world’s 61 million out-of-school primary-school aged children live in conflict-affected poor countries*. In 2010 only 79% of young people in conflict-affected poor countries were literate, compared with 93% in other poor countries*.
In Mali, our assessments have found that the most vulnerable children - the youngest, adolescent girls and those with disabilities - are not accessing education in areas affected by internal conflict.
Barriers to education
We’ve found that the usual barriers to education the children face are exacerbated, and the most vulnerable tend to be excluded from education interventions. And yet school provides safety and a normal routine, as well as learning, for children whose lives have been turned upside down.
Our experience during the Mali conflict also shows that it’s possible to take very practical steps to make sure that even the most vulnerable children benefit from education opportunities.
Plan works with the government to make sure children and communities are involved in planning education support during the conflict. This ‘bottom up’ approach has provided locally-led solutions to getting children back into school, and has created new early play and learning opportunities for the very youngest.
For a developing country in crisis, having an educated population is vital for economic growth. But humanitarian funding worldwide for education tends to be just 1-2% of the total. And no sector has a smaller share of humanitarian appeals funded: just 38% of aid requests for education are met, which is around half the average for all sectors*.
10 July 2013: Every girl has the right to an education. But for many girls across the world, an education is nothing but a dream – and a dangerous dream at that.
Last October, 15-year-old schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban, because she was determined for herself and other girls to be schooled. Mercifully, it didn’t go unnoticed.
Beacon of inspiration
Malala’s story struck a chord with millions of people - including me - and the young campaigner has become a beacon of inspiration to millions. This is an extraordinary, brave young woman who, when faced with death, refused to give up and refused to be silenced.
Angelina Jolie was so moved by Malala’s story, she took to the stage at the Women in the World Summit, stating: “In a brutal attempt to silence her voice, it grew louder, and she more resolute, calling on the entire world – not just Pakistan – to ensure the right for every girl and boy for an education.”
As CEO of Plan International, a child rights organisation whose global Because I am a Girl campaign was launched just 2 days after Malala’s attack last year, I too am moved by her story.
Power in unity
I’ve been fortunate enough to witness first-hand the hope Malala has given to those like her. Recently, Plan girls’ global ambassador Urmila Chaudhary was badly injured while protesting for girls’ rights in Nepal.
Even when Urmila was hospitalised, she was determined not to give up. She wanted to tell Malala: “You are not alone in your fight for girls’ education. We are also behind with you. We support you and we hope that you stick with your mission.”
What I find most hopeful is the galvanised unity that has resulted from this atrocity. From Tanzania and El Salvador to Vietnam and Indonesia, these girls have come together to prove that they will not be defeated in the face of extreme prejudice and violence.
34 million other Malalas
Just this week, Malala’s friend Shazia, who was sitting on the bus next to the teenager when she was shot, arrived in the UK. The poignant moment of their reunion was a reminder that there are many ‘Malalas’ – in fact some *34 million 11-15-year-old girls around the world are currently out of education.
And on 12 July – the teenager’s 16th birthday - Malala will take to the United Nations in New York to lead the General Assembly’s first ever youth takeover along with Plan youth delegates and others and to deliver a keynote speech about the importance of girls’ education.
Malala, you are a true heroine to us and all the other young campaigners out there. Together, we must ensure that every girl is able to take her rightful place in the classroom and start her personal journey to learning and development.
Join us for Malala Day and follow Plan activities around the world
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