It’s clearly back-to-school time. Retail chains’ aisles have been packed with school supplies for weeks, from notebooks to dorm room essentials. And by now, many kids around the country are already settling into their new classrooms.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me a bit nostalgic. But many young people around the world are also longing to go back to school — not because they miss “the good old days,” but because they never had the chance to experience them in the first place.
Research shows that while the global number of children not attending school is down from 15 years ago, we still have a long way to go to ensure that education is a universal right.
According to UNICEF, only 56 percent of the world’s population has completed at least a lower secondary education. That number plummets to just 37 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many children are forced to drop out of school to help support their families financially. And while aid groups are working to get more children back in the classroom, those who were forced to drop out years ago — who are now struggling to survive — are often overlooked.
Charity, a young woman our organization has worked with in Uganda, comes to mind.
Charity had to drop out of school when her mother died unexpectedly. She tried to open her own business, but she had no resources, no assets, no training. She ended up needing her uncle’s support just to have everyday essentials.
Charity thought she’d always have to rely on someone else to take care of her, that she would never be independent or self-reliant.
But then Charity received a second chance at an education. Through generous donors, Charity was given a scholarship to attend a vocational school for hairstyling and cosmetology.
On her first day, she was both nervous and excited — all those “back-to-school” jitters multiplied because of how long it had been since she was in the classroom. After all, she wasn’t coming back after a summer vacation. Poverty had denied her an education for years.
Today, Charity has graduated and runs her own business.
She is a role model for the women who come into her salon. She isn’t simply styling women’s hair and making them feel beautiful; she is showing them that education can open the doors to independence and a brighter future at any age — and it’s never too late to go back to school.
Juliette is another woman who knows the power of vocational training.
I met Juliette while traveling in Africa, and I related to her so much. We were about the same age, and she was a mother to two beautiful children. But she had no education and no way to provide for her family.
Then, she was given the chance to go to tailoring school. Because of this, Juliette became the first person in her family to break out of the cycle of poverty. She now runs her own business and teaches and employs other women to be seamstresses, allowing the transformation to expand.
It’s amazing what someone can do when she is given the tools to build a better future.
While I am a strong believer in improving access to education for children, we can’t afford to write off those who are past school age, either. It’s because of Juliette’s training that she is now able to keep her own girls in school.
Educational poverty is an enemy that we need to attack from all sides. Because the truth is, it’s never too late and you are never too old to go “back to school.”
Noel Yeatts is an active advocate for social justice and humanitarian needs around the world. With over 20 years of experience in humanitarian work, Noel is an author, speaker, and the President of World Help, an international, Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of impoverished communities around the world. Noel regularly takes the stage for speaking engagements and advocacy events around the country and has been widely recognized for her groundbreaking book, “Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time.” To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.