Sunday, October 12, 2014

Motivating Activism

When a group of people get together to work on a social or political goal, part introducing yourself to the group is always some variation of the question: "How did you get involved in this work? Why is it important to you?"

It is surprising to me how often I hear the same answer.

The story goes something like this. When I was growing up, I lived in a nice neighborhood, went to a nice school, always had enough to eat, and never was in need. I had friends that were all just like me. I never doubted that I would go to college. But as I got older, I noticed more and more frequently, and with more and more disgust, that there was another part of town, full of another kind of people, and that they lived a different way. This strikes me as unfair, and so I wish to use my privilege to better the situation for others.

Admittedly, this is not generally the story I tell, although it certainly applies to me. Albuquerque is divided explicitly by a river, and those who live on the "east side" have opportunities those on the "west side" would never dream of. In Boston, I can walk along one side of Tremont Street and be walking with white people, and cross the street and be in the black neighborhood of Roxbury. These discrepancies never fail to bother me, nor to motivate me to demand change.

And so it makes perfect sense to me that these situations would inspire in others a similar desire. I am still puzzled, though, by why this seems to be the sole motivator, or at least by far the most common one.

There seem to be either two options: either everyone grows up in a place that is de facto segregated so severely by race and/or socioeconomic status, and then some of those people become involved in activism work, or there is something about such situations that inspires us to be frustrated at the status quo and want a world that is more fair. Although I think that there is merit to the first option, it is certainly more interesting to entertain the second. If there was something intrinsic to unfair situations that made us squirm, and then stand up and demand movement to fairness, then we may just have argued for the objective "badness" of segregated communities.

A premise of ours must be that segregation on the basis of heritage is, in fact, unfair. This is obvious to me, because heritage does not indicate desert, and not getting what a person deserves indicates unfairness. However, this is probably worth explicating. It is simple to see why unfairness in general may be viewed as undesirable, because I wouldn't want to be the one treated unfairly. It is probably this generalization from they to I that causes many of us to even see the unfair treatment of others as bad, too. However, it still remains to be seen why such undesirability would inspire, to such a great degree, people to act in the name of promoting fairness for others. Obviously, people do not take up arms against every situation that they find undesirable - the world would be swiftly rid of all its social problems if they did.

I'd like to claim that it is the proximity of the injustice that causes this motivation. I can learn about unfairness that occurs in other societies all day long, but if I am still convinced  by its "otherness," I will not feel the urgency of the situation. Indeed, given that many now-activists have experienced this situation from the privileged side, they may feel guilt in having been afforded - unfairly - opportunities that they did not deserve. This guilt, caused by recognized contribution to a situation of unfairness, requires people to dedicate themselves to some extent to a remedy.

If perhaps we could extend this concept to motivate others to dedicate time and effort to solving less proximate problems (global problems, for instance, or problems plaguing very different cultures than our own), what change would we see achieved?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Education and Violence

As we transition from the celebration of International Youth Day on August 12 to the initiation of the 500 day countdown until the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, I would like to call attention to the very current and pressing issue of education in conflict zones.

The world has stirred in support of the Nigerian schoolgirls, kidnapped by insurgent group Boko Haram. Many have tried to call attention to the greater issue at hand: school security. The Safe Schools Initiative was started by A World at School to secure northern Nigerian schools against future attacks, while simultaneously providing resources to the reclamation of the missing girls.

However, it is obvious that no approach targeted at Nigeria was holistic enough: just weeks after this call to action, schools in Gaza - many run by the UN - have been attacked by Israeli forces. Since July 7, 138 schools in Gaza have been bombed or damaged, and 330 children have been killed. It is unclear why these injustices have not sparked a similar global sympathy.

The barrier to change here is not lack of understanding, nor lack of international agreement, but simply lack of accountability. Even though Israel was given the coordinates to schools in Gaza, in the hopes that they would make efforts to avoid their damage, schools have still been bombed. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy on Education, commented that "just as wars should never be fought through the targeting of hospitals, and they should never be waged through the violation of schools." It is established practice in conflict situations to not attack hospitals, but it is not similarly established that a school, full of children, should not be targeted. I find this discrepancy troubling.

Furthermore, it has been shown with Syrian refugee children that provision of education is possible despite conflict, as long as relevant governments are making it a priority. It is agreed upon that educating children is the surest way to prevent future conflict, and so it seems that in wanting to break a cycle of conflict that exists in any given society, education would be seen as crucial.

When children live in fear of going to school, often they or their parents will understandably decide that they should not go. When a family is forced to choose between education and life, they will choose life. So keeping educational institutions of of the crosshairs is imperative not only for school quality, but for attendance. Achieving MDG 2, universal primary education, requires attention to school safety.

Below is a compiled list of popular recommendations to mitigate the risk for school children in conflict situations:

  1. Collect and report adequate data. It is important to know which school are potentially unsafe, so that children are not sent into a place at risk. 
  2. Implement physical protection mechanisms. Security guards or even a community/neighborhood watch can provide an extra level of protection in case of attack. However, it is necessary to be cautious that implementation of additional security does not invite attack, and also that students' learning is not impaired by the presence of non-school personnel.
  3. Implement a youth policy. Having a policy conduit for youth issues can make the implementation of safety regarding youth easier and more effective, and having a youth policy has been shown to be key in the reduction and prevention of future violence.
  4. Accept the Lucens Guidelines. The Lucens Guidelines were specifically designed to assist a country in developing a strategy to reduce military use of schools. You can add your voice and call on UN Ambassadors to increase adherence to the guidelines here. Alternatively, other relevant legislation, such as that adopted last week in Massachusetts, could be adequate to a given situation.
  5. Provide psychosocial support when needed. Even if a school is placed in a dangerous situation, it is imperative that damage to the children's development and desire to go to school not be permanently harmed.
  6. Support educational programs designed to reduce conflict. A leadership program for girls in Nigeria taught them to use the power of words, not fists, when conflict arises, and to accept ideological differences.
  7. Insist on accountability measures. Without proper accountability, international law or guidelines cannot be effective.
It is important to remember that school is supposed to be a place where a child can feel safe, and a place where he or she can focus on learning and becoming a functioning member of society. This is undoubtedly impossible when a threat of violence looms over what should be a functioning classroom.

For more information on school safety, take a look at the website for the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

For One Hundred Days

I could, with a little effort, have woken up this morning, eaten breakfast, exercised, gone to class. I could have turned my eyes towards the summer leaves, rustling with humid Boston air, and the glistening buildings to the left and right. Instead, for the hundredth day, I awoke to the faces of Boko Haram insurgents and recalled my own imprisonment.

I would not like to dedicate this article to a discussion of violence, of the role women play in developing nations, or of the irresponsibility of the world’s governments who have so far failed to recover the lost Chibok girls. I do not want to chronicle the extent to which this horror has brought together people across the globe and called much-needed attention back to the issue of universal education and of school safety. I only wish to remind those of you reading that the girls, despite that the media’s attention has turned to pressing coverage on conflict in Gaza or the plane crash in Ukraine, are still missing, and to explain why I still care.

I have never been to Nigeria, let alone Chibok, let alone a school there. And I have never met these girls, nor do I know anyone who has met these girls, nor their families, nor their friends. I have only seen them on the news. I do not know their names. I do not know who they will become, or who they would have become had Boko Haram not so violently interrupted their lives. Yet somehow, when I hear about or imagine their distant pain, incomparable to anything I have known, I can feel a part of it too.

Malala Yousafzai, champion of girls’ education everywhere since her nearly-fatal encounter with the Taliban in 2012, called these girls her sisters when she visited their families on her birthday last week. Nicholas Kristoff, co-author of Half the Sky, calls the girls the nation’streasure. I am trying to be perhaps more radical, and consider the Chibok schoolgirls and myself to be one and the same.

There was probably a time in history when this wouldn’t have been a feasible stance to take; too much would separate a privileged, Caucasian, college student in America from young, impoverished schoolgirl in conflict-ridden Africa. Many would have considered the only factors that link us to be our gender, maybe our age. Now, however, I believe that the world has, indeed, gotten smaller in this regard. It is not unthinkable that my future could hold in it something which the actions of these girls could influence. It is likewise not unthinkable that I could do something that would act causally towards them. Given enough luck and resources, we could shake hands someday. The worlds we live in are the same worlds. Therefore, I find it unavoidable to consider my relationship to the victims of the kidnapping, and so I cannot stop being concerned for their sufferings.

One hundred days is a long time for the rest of the world to not yet have reached this same conclusion. I do not want to live in a place where young children can be kidnapped from school and remain missing months later, we should be saying. I think that if enough of us were saying it, the girls would be found. We will create the world we wish to see, if the one we’re in now isn’t the one we want.

I understand that I am still distant from these girls. I cannot, within reason, drop everything and find them myself – in fact, I would certainly be unsuccessful. But I am doing what I can: spreading the word, keeping them in my thoughts, and being grateful for the safety with which my schools in my life have provided me. It is also simple to send a message to the girls, or to useyour monetary prosperity to alleviate their peers’ burdens. Getting involved on a larger scale is wonderful, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to make this their sole passion in order for the situation to turn around for the better.

The safety of these girls – and of children and even adults everywhere – is, right now, in our hands. I do not want to have to write another one of these in another hundred days. I do not want this issue to slip through the cracks and be forgotten by generations to come.

Fifteen of the girls who escaped from Boko Haram went ahead and took their exams in June. They are brave, and they are trying to move on with their lives, but they have not forgotten. To show our support, if nothing else, neither should we.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gender Inequality at Home

Having been a strong proponent of girls' education awareness film "Girl Rising," and having been recently introduced to the book and documentary concerning a wider array of women's issues, "Half the Sky," I have been nonetheless bothered by one small fact: Why did the filmmakers not choose to include a study of gender disparities in developed nations? Surely the fact that the facts and figures are perhaps less shocking in some places compared to others cannot disqualify any domestic violence victim or involuntary sex worker from her right to media exposure. Surely the lack of de jure discrimination against females in the U.S. should not detract from that which is de facto. So I did some research.

First, I discovered Gender Inequality Index, a measurement created by the United Nations Development Program to compare the state of gender (in)equality around the world, and this interactive map. Thanks to the color-coding, it was easy to compare the U.S. more closely with countries of similar shades, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Argentina. Then I noticed that China - infamous for its female infanticide and historical foot-binding - actually got a rank "less unequal" than America, primarily due to less adolescent fertility and HIV/AIDS prevalence, and despite greater levels of poverty. Meghan Casserly of Forbes analyzed a similar measurement done by the World Economic Forum, where the U.S. comes in as the 22nd best country for women. This did not seem shocking to me until I noticed some of the countries in the top twenty: Nicaragua, where I have been and had to confront the looming likelihood that the female students I was teaching would be pregnant before age 16 and abused forever by their husbands; Lesotho, where we still send Peace Corps volunteers; Cuba, notorious for their recently oppressive regime; and South Africa, against which the world had to unite to finally put an end to ruthless racial discrimination.

Next I looked up the specifics on issues I know and recognize to be barriers to women in the U.S. to this day. About 30% of women are at some time subject to sexual, gender-based violence by someone they know, amounting to about 20 women per minute. Only 16.6% of congressional leaders are women, making the U.S. 78th in the world in terms of political representation. Women still make an average of 77 cents for every dollar that a man makes, not to mention that our constitution still fails to have been amended in reparation. Between one and two million sex slaves live in America, even though it is illegal almost everywhere, and about 80% of these are women.

However, two other notable gender disparities surfaced. More women in America by percentage have been graduating with a bachelor's degree than men since 1992, and fewer girls drop out of high school than boys. Also, more women proportionately and in total numbers report participating as voters every presidential election since 1980. These statistics demonstrate to me that, despite persistent subconscious or behind-the-scenes discrimination against them, women choose to take part in those actions that have the greatest societal impact, when they can. One of the common ways people demonstrate the importance of economic empowerment of women is by explaining that a woman will reinvest her money in her family and her community more frequently than a man. Luckily, enfranchisement of women and public school has apparently enabled them to invest other things too, like talent and time, into civic needs.

I understand why filmmakers trying to have an impact would skim over these intricacies. Most women here and in other developed countries do just fine, and that's not something that can be said of the places that were highlighted in those two movies. Sometimes, though, I think we need to be reminded that while for some women beating the odds means escaping FGM or owning her own business, for others it can mean being an elected official. If gender equality is going to play the role in the twenty-first century that racial equality has played in centuries past, perhaps we should celebrate the whole spectrum of victories.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day of the African Child

Today, June 16, is the Day of the African Child, a day commemorating when in 1976, thousands of students in South Africa claimed their educational rights. In 2014, we utilize this celebration to call upon our world leaders to pledge their support of education for all. This month, our leaders will be held accountable for finding the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls and victims of brutally unnecessary kidnappings in Chibok, and for making a monetary commitment to the Global Partnership for Education at the pledging conference in ten days time. This morning in Addis Ababa, a youth takeover shook the African Union, and a youth resolution calling for global support of a safe and universal education was passed by children, for children.  

Nationally, we have a simple goal: Our ask is that President Obama and head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, pledge $250 million over two years to support the only multilateral international fund for education. GPE is, with this and other donations for their replenishment fund, prepared to put 29 million primary aged children in school,  single-handedly reducing the current 57 million without schooling by half. As the end of 2015 and the deadline for Millennium Development Goal 2 approaches, such efforts are indispensable. I, and many others I know, called the white house this morning to call attention to this opportunity and ask the president to increase his support for GPE.

This weekend, I saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I disembarked from the ferry while on a conference call hosted by RESULTS with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, sponsor of a House letter to President Obama regarding America's responsibility to GPE, which was signed by 81 members. She said that, while perhaps the issue of education for all (EFA) was important to others for different reasons, her view is that education is a human right. This makes us all obligated to work towards it. She also said, when advocating for increased funding for global education initiatives, to remind policy makers of the ways in which EFA helps us locally. EFA is, in fact, an issue of national security, because societies in which education is prevalent and of good quality are less susceptible to violence. EFA is of economic importance, too. Getting every child into primary school isn't something the US can ignore, even though few of the 57 million lie within our borders.

As I hear this, I see the Statue of Liberty facing away from America, towards the developing world, towards the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." While we may have forgotten our connection to others overseas, she has not. The freedom which she symbolizes cannot exist until children everywhere are able to think critically and have the skills necessary to survive in this world. She waits in anticipation of our role in their success.

Today, I would like not to forget what good our prosperity can bring to the world. For what good is our well-being, if we do not share it with those in need? What is our Liberty, if she can turn to those without her and not speak a word?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Education and Poverty

"Education is among the most potent anti-poverty vaccines," CNN reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon states. In fact, the case could be made that poverty-reduction is the primary goal of education, considering that education, for many, means unlocking the potential of a higher paying job. I want my children to go to school so that they can have opportunity, the common rationale goes - and by opportunity the parent means possibility of providing for themselves, their families, their communities.

I volunteer at an organization called LIFT in Boston, in the predominantly disadvantaged and predominantly African American neighborhood of Roxbury. LIFT is a national organization where volunteers work with clients with poverty-related qualms, although there are no client eligibility requirements. We are thrilled when a client comes in with a high school diploma, a GED, a nursing certification, or, on a rare but not unheard-of occasion, a college degree, because these educational stepping stones mean for us easier job searches, less likelihood of a criminal record, greater chance of successful housing applications. And, to tell the truth, the more academically inclined a client is, the better they generally will be at doing their "homework" in between weekly meetings, and at showing up for their appointments with us and other service providers.

However, while I am always elated by a client's desire to further his or her education, ideally they would find merit to educational pursuits beyond the prospective monetary reward. I have had (and am having) the privilege of an education that is more than so-called "job training" or "employment readiness." The fact is that being at and learning at school intrinsically will prepare you to work well, because school is work. Practice makes perfect, so meeting deadlines, preparing papers, showing up on time, and learning how to intellectually articulate spontaneous thoughts as a child or young adult will better prepare you for doing this and getting paid for it.

For me, though, poverty reduction can never have a price tag, and the education that frequently causes it is valuable for reasons more far-reaching. Ideally, too, having an education would enable a person to have more constructive and critical thoughts, which could be used to the betterment of a company, a society, or a product. These are, unfortunately, not the tasks that LIFT clients are often asked to do in their jobs or careers, and I hold their education (or lack of it) accountable. In general terms, a deeper and more productive education alone can provide an individual with creative job opportunities. Aside from probably providing him or her with an above-the-poverty-line salary that can break generational patterns of desperate need, such a job provides a person with the priceless opportunity to participate in societal construction and use their own voice to create change for the better.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Education for Sustainable Development

There is a general societal goal of education: to create sustainable communities. Sustainability generally means the ability to fulfill present environmental, societal, and economic needs without sacrificing the well-being of future generations. Education can uniquely enable groups to achieve sustainability, in part by education individuals about efforts towards sustainability, but also by instructing individuals to themselves act in favor of a sustainable world.

For an authoritative position on how to advocate for education for sustainable development (ESD), see the Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit by Dr. Rosalyn McKeown.

Overall, I undoubtedly believe ESD to be the key to solving many of the world's problems that are currently caused by unsustainable practices, including but not limited to hunger, violence, discrimination, exploitation, and resource depletion.

Every aspect of ESD comes together when we can envision and ideally create communities of people who can sustain themselves. This is defined by their actions, but also by their attitudes; when a person recognizes his or her investment in a given community, he or she will act to benefit it out of intrinsic incentive. Sustainability is comprised of just this: eager citizens that engage in what will benefit the whole. This attitude comes from education, and can (in a sustainable way) promote education further. Teaching individuals to care for their communities begins with teaching children, and our ability to effectively teach children conversely starts in the communities that realize their stake in future generations.

However, I'd like to discuss the inherent sustainability of education itself.

A quality education will not only teach material - material that includes environmental awareness, societal involvement, economic responsibility - but will impart upon students a life-long love for learning. In this regard, education can inspire continuing education, within a life but also between generations. I have an anecdote to demonstrate this: a young boy reads aloud to me a picture book. He turns the page and gasps a little when he realizes how many words accompany the following illustration. I offer to take a turn reading, but he refuses - instead, he tells me that he'll read the page, as long as I'm willing to help him with words he doesn't know. I learned that day that something about his education had encouraged him to push himself to learn even more, beyond the requirements, because he could see, despite his age, the benefits that learning would have for him. Of course, my own learning in this situation has inspired me to further act to spread his successes to other corners of the world. If harnessed, the power that caused this boy voluntarily to challenge himself intellectually could single-handedly change the world, and I hope to find that power and enable its use.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Long-Term Investment

Political systems are frequently designed such that politicians have an incentive to act in the best interests of the constituents - namely, reelection. This is generally good, because it can prevent (or at least limit) self-serving tyranny at the expense of the populous. However, politicians ideological goals then can be disrupted by looming election years, because if they can't show hard results and successes, they may be out of a job.

This is really the primary (if not only) reason why outstanding and widespread education programs don't get more political support. By the time today's grade school students are helping improve the global economy, maintain regional peace and stability, and progress technological innovations that save lives and time, individual politicians won't be able to use these results to be reelected. Countless statistics demonstrate that education is a worthwhile investment in the long run. To name a few:
  • One extra year of education increases a person’s wages approximately 10 percent.
  • The largest positive effect on child malnutrition has been the education of women – even more so than direct food aid.
  • Every additional year of schooling reduces an adolescent boy’s risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 percent.
  • A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past age 5.
But all of these results take decades to mature. The trick as advocates is enabling policymakers at all levels to see that, through their support of education, they can help the communities that elected for them to a greater degree than if they just focused on the next few years.

I often pose a question to myself: if all of this worked, and our investment in education paid off, where would that leave me? Certainly without a cause. A month or so ago, while I was on a volunteer trip with Outreach 360 in Jinotega, Nicaragua, I expressed my realization that, as advocates who work through service, we are really trying to "work ourselves out of a job" - we wish we didn't have to do what we do, that the world didn't need us. Here, we have to differ from the politicians: we have to accept that, while we may love what we do, the need for us to do it is ultimately bad. We don't want to be reelected by the help and representation for which the marginalized populations of the world ask. We want to be able to invest long-term.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Youth Perspective

People and organizations do not traditionally ask the youth population for their opinions on the issues - what do we know about economics or war or health care? No one can deny, though, that we can provide an informative and inspiring perspective on an issue that affects us individually: education.

Generally, policy makers are the ones that make policy. Advocacy in general is about turning that around, so that the people get to have a voice in the decisions that most affect them. In a democracy, the most simple form of advocacy is voting. Unfortunately for the cause of education, many of those most prone to be directly influenced by policy decisions are not yet of age. The most important factors in getting the youth to participate in this conversation are (1) motivating kids to break past the adult-oriented system and (2) teaching them how to best articulate their policy needs.

One advantage of using youth to advocate for youth is that it carries a shock value. Few people expect a teenager to be knowledgeable or mature enough to be involved in advocacy. In this regard, our words carry more weight. However, our words and not our age should be our most powerful tool. The most effective message will be constructed to combine the thoroughness of serious policy advocacy with the unique viewpoint of a student.

One barrier, besides age, for youth that wish to advocate on a global issue is location is that many of us simply do not have the means to mobilize physically, because, well, we have to go to school. I have most recently learned how strong digital advocacy can be, and no one is better equipped to utilize social media to solve social issues than the youngest generation. Reaching out to organizations or individuals that you know have been successful in their education advocacy can not only link you to existing movements, but can also trigger your own. To participate in an online discussion on development goals, and see the ideas of other youth around the world, see the Global Partnership for Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Some tips on planning and carrying out advocacy as a young adult:

  1. Know your facts. Advocates will always be more knowledgeable than policy makers on the policies we want to create. Use this to your advantage, and immerse yourself in the issue.
  2. Don't forget why the issue matters to you. Going to school has likely been the biggest part of your life so far. The desire to give that to other children, so that they can have the same personal success that you are able to have is enough to motivate change.
  3. Have a specific goal in mind. What is it that you're trying to achieve, exactly? What can you say that will most support and further your goal?
  4. Don't go at it alone. Luckily, there are countless individuals that want the same thing that you want, in some form or another. Analyzing their experiences - what went well, what went wrong - and listening to their advice can be priceless.
For a more in-depth study on how to advocate well, see the recently released Youth Advocacy Toolkit.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Curriculum of Global Citizenship

In addressing the quality of education in the post-2015 agenda, the concept of teaching global citizenship is especially puzzling - to policy maker, statisticians, and advocates alike. How do we design a curriculum that encompasses peace and tolerance, and how do we reliably measure the effectiveness of such a curriculum?

In the UN Secretary-General's Education First Initiative, global citizenship is listed as one of three priorities, intended to encompass "to forge more just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive societies." For many, the benefit of this is to increase widespread participation in our global economy. For some, the most important feature of global citizenship is a renewed attitude of protection toward our common environment. For me, the recognition of our shared humanity would be enough - children thousands of miles apart mutually recognizing one another's existence and importance is reason enough to mandate a segment of universal curriculum.

Critical thinking and preparation for sustainable development as elements of global citizenship are emphasized in the brief Making Education a Priority in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, even though the Learning Metrics Task Force acknowledges the inevitable challenges in measuring and creating effective strategies for teaching global citizenship. The juxtaposition between these two values is intriguing: one within yourself, one between you and your community. If this connection is indeed as significant as it seems, it may serve to highlight the importance of the global citizenship goal overall.

Furthermore, the goal of global citizenship is not one that applies exclusively or even primarily to developing countries. Soft-skills like citizenship are displaced when easily measurable priorities ("can they or can they not answer this multiple choice question correctly?") are advertised, and this has been an issue that the U.S. has faced in recent years. Public schooling was arguably created for the purpose of fostering citizenship; successful coexistence between groups and individuals is conducive to maintenance of civil society. Given the boundlessness of our current capacity to communicate across physical barriers, all society is now a global society. Let's not forget that a world of efficient workers that nonetheless don't know how to get along with one another can never be an effective world. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I'll begin with some background information on me:

I'm a current undergraduate student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, studying Philosophy and Math with the hopes of becoming a lawyer and doing policy advocacy. Sometime recently, I've chosen a "cause": global education. This might require some explanation.

The "global" aspect is easy to explain: my heritage and my childhood existed in all corners of the world. At the age of ten, I traveled to India for the first time, and got a glimpse of social problems that plague the developing world in ways that America does not see. If I am to act to help the most in need, my issue will be an international one.

Ever since I wanted to be a lawyer, which was around age 11, I've known I wanted to represent children. This likely had to do initially with the fact that I was reading The Client by John Grisham, but it was accentuated by the lack of official representation I was awarded in my parent's divorce proceedings. However, I soon learned that I had a comparably good situation: kids all across New Mexico (my home state) were abused by their parents, abused by the schools, and neglected by the legal system.

As I got to internship-age, I was able to delve into a few facets of children's law. I had several wonderful mentors that were able to teach me about the issues facing local children as immigrants, students, foster care children, juvenile delinquents, children with disabilities, and children trying to get away from an unhealthy home. I learned how to do policy research, how to address law makers, how to define a "best practice," how to make an argument. 

Somewhere in between trying to decide on a college, trying to achieve something with my volunteer advocacy, and trying to initiate myself into adulthood, I began studying philosophy. Not only did this end up determining my major, and much of my intellectual enjoyment since, but it also enabled me to narrow my cause to advocating for the education of kids. No famous philosopher will dispute that education alone can change someone's way of thinking - hopefully for the better - and, for many, the ultimate goal of education is to perpetuate the existence of a more synchronized society. Just this morning, I read in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, "We need to have had the appropriate upbringing... to make up find enjoyment or pain in the right things; for this is the correct education" (1104b11-13). Aristotle argues briefly that it is this education that teaches us human virtue, the key to happiness individually and socially. If education can bring about this greater good, then education will be my cause.

So now we have an issue that is international, related to children, and in support of education. I best justify this by another quote, this time from Simone de Beauvoir's Ethics of Ambiguity: "The constructive activities of man take on a valid meaning only when they are assumed as a movement toward freedom" (80). Beauvoir planted the seed for my own conception of freedom - I am only as free as the least-free person. And so I move to make that person free. Moreover, the freedoms that are tied to money, to food, to healthcare can all be reduced to increasing the quality and accessibility of education. Once again, my cause is justified.

My work is now just beginning: This past week I returned from a youth advocacy training in D.C. hosted by the Global Campaign for Education's U.S. chapter, with a fervor to spread awareness and share my thoughts. Last week, I was appointed one of A World at School's Global Youth Ambassadors, with instructions to get the word out. And so now I have a blog.