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This article first ran in the Huffington Post on May 5, 2013.

They had me at hello and I suppose they would have you too if you were fortunate to go there, to meet them.

The girls in Kitenga, Tanzania, like girls in rural villages throughout too many countries seem to have this collective trait of capacity and hope. Unfortunately, that capacity is bounded. My job, with your help, is to unbind that capacity, to help them become the individuals they are meant to be.

When a young woman’s needs of health and security are met, and she is equipped with the skills and insights to transcend circumstances, she gains the opportunity to realize her fullest potential. And as we are learning, her “fullest potential” is often the pivot point — the point where generational poverty has an authentic chance of being diminished. Why? Because she will marry later and have fewer children; her children will be healthier and more educated; she will have greater income earning potential and invest those earnings back into her family. Girls education is the rock into the water, creating ripples that push back poverty.

The girls I have met seek change. They seek advocates to help them create change. Recently, I literally had a girl tell me that her father didn’t want to pay her school fees, that he saw her as a source of income, that he wanted to sell her for a cow. When she learned of our plans to create in her community a boarding school for 1,500 girls, she said to us: “A boarding school for girls? That would be very, very good.”

Malala’s photo recently covered TIME Magazine as one of the world’s most influential people because communally, we are becoming aware of the magnitude of the issues facing girls and its damaging consequences to each individual and to society as a whole.

For the first time in history, the global community is coming to fully realize the barriers and issues unique to women and girls around the world. Sex trafficking, violence and discrimination are pervasive and we must demand an end to such behavior. Yet nothing is more institutionalized, demeaning and ultimately restrictive than the barriers girls face to acquiring an education.

The task at hand is for that awareness to ignite CHANGE and it is through organizations such as ours and others, where words will become change. The world, right now, needs civil society organizations, NGOs, religious institutions and the private sector working collaboratively on this issue and they need to be supported by millions of advocates. We need governments to change policy and invest money. We need to have patience with communities as they consider change. Many communities, especially in east and western Africa are opening to that change. Some, like Pakistan, are more resistant.

Freida Pinto, advocate and one of Girl Rising’s narrators, recently told POLITICO: “But we all know that change can only happen if we move into action”. She’s right, but there’s more. That action needs to meet certain criteria if we are going to truly honor and help unleash the capacity and hope within these girls. It is more than building a school roof over their heads. If you really want change, the sustainable kind that could become millions of pivot points? Then let’s demand that ‘action’ is equated with quality, relevancy and safety. Let’s demand an end to silo approaches. Let’s address all the critical and inter-related needs of girls. Let’s do it around and within a vibrant education.

Girls Education Collaborative works with rural communities to create opportunities for girls. We forge local and global partnerships to complete projects centered around an integrated approach to educating girls and young women, opening a whole world of possibilities for their futures.

We have a daunting task ahead of us, as do others who work as we do — for there are millions of girls who, given the chance, are ready to become pivot points. Let’s give them a chance to create some ripples.

Anne Robinson Wadsworth, Contributor
Executive Director, Girls Education Collaborative

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