- Community Empowerment
The Right Start
Education is a human right for every child.
But, it is also a tool for climbing out of poverty, a defence against disease, a loudspeaker for the voiceless.
For governments, and the international community, it is an investment that never devalues. In fact, no country has made progress without educated citizens. No region has prospered without good schools and universities. No world can find peace if swathes of humanity are subject to violence, destitution, and discrimination because they lack an education.
That’s why I’m proud to represent UNICEF as their Eminent Advocate for Children, and the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) as their Honorary Chairperson, campaigning around the world for broader access to schools and higher quality education for children, especially girls.
From South America to South Africa and South Asia, I’ve seen the power education has over the lives of girls and boys alike. It is transformational, in mind, body, and spirit. They learn to read and write, they earn more to feed their families, and they turn into young people with self-respect and a desire to improve the lives of those around them.
The effects cascade across the generations, as parents pass on their learning to their sons and daughters. But children are teachers, too. Neisiwe, whom I met in Soweto, near Johannesburg, told me how when she came home from school she would teach her family what she had learnt that day. Her mother was so inspired she took up night classes to learn how to read.
I’ve had the honour of meeting many children like Neisiwe, with their tales of tragedy and triumph. One of them was Devli, from India. I met her at the Class of 2015 event in New York, September 2008. In front of leaders like Gordon Brown, Bob Geldof, and Bono, she stole the show as she told us how she used to work in a quarry, hauling rocks, being beaten. After she was saved and sent to school, she was determined to help all girls see the inside of a classroom, challenging us to do the same.
The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) is striving for just that: education for all. In April 2009, I had the privilege of being their Honorary Chairperson for Global Action Week to fight illiteracy worldwide and highlight the importance of education. Along with such distinguished characters as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Paulo Coelho, I contributed to the Big Read, a book full of stories, translated into multiple languages, that has rallied people worldwide to demand an education. As of June 2009, over 13 million people had read the book in over 120 countries.
Now, GCE and FIFA are working together to tap the power of football with 1 GOAL. As Co-Chair of the campaign, I met Gugu, a little South African girl who personifies the power of education: smart, confident, and outspoken. Along with Gary Lineker and other footballing giants, we launched 1 GOAL in August 2009 at Wembley Stadium, London. Gugu, fearless in front of the world’s media, said “Going to school is fun and I want to help make sure every child in Africa can go to school like me”. As we advocated for all children to receive an education, we announced our ambition to collect 30 million names by the end of the 2010 World Cup as a symbol to show global leaders the global desire for global education.
There is a long way to go and many hurdles to be leapt, but I hope you can join us in this journey, to a world where every child can live their dream of going to school.