CNN’s powerful film, We Will Rise, is a documentary about Michelle Obama’s global education initiative called Let Girls Learn. In it she travels to Morocco and Liberia with Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and CNN’s Isha Sesay on a mission to break down barriers between young girls and their dreams of “realizing their promise.” The film brings to the forefront a number of extraordinary girls and the obstacles they have to scale just to participate in what we all take for granted: going to school.
As stories unfold, many similar situations and themes are reveled. You can see how a young girl’s self-image is formed by her parents’ beliefs and cultural norms. Oftentimes it’s the father whose attitude is “her education is not necessary,” and will pay for his son’s tuition, and not hers if the money is tight. In these situations, it might be the mother or grandmother advocating her education, fighting for her to receive what they themselves wish they had been given. In many instances rural living will force girls to walk eight or more miles a day to the city school, risking attacks along the way.
You can see the determination in their eyes to succeed, even in the face of harassment, exploitation, sickness, and insurmountable costs (school isn’t paid for by taxes like in the USA). You can also see something else: a kind of vulnerability as demonstrated when one girl says, “I want to show her (my mom) I can do it, even if I am a girl.” They’re fighting for more than an education. They’re also fighting to be valued in a society that deems their needs to grow intellectually as unimportant.
Related film: How girls around the world are educated.
One of my favorite stories is about Karima Lakouz, who excels in math and science. She spoke about how in her culture there are certain stereotypes that keep women from the sciences. Then she took part in a program that came to her village called Tech Girls and she realized that girls have brains too. Karima later graduated top of her class in engineering.
Mrs. Obama goes onto to explain that investing in education girls is an investment in the nation itself. If the women, who bear and raise the children, aren’t educated, that impacts wages, family health, HIV rates, infant mortality – it impacts all aspects of society, and eventually the entire nation.
As I delved into this film, I began to feel angry at how girls were being treated. Then Meryl Streep made one of the most profound statements that is true of all cultures and I realized that for all of us to overcome obstacles in this world, no matter where we live and what they are, makes us better and stronger people. And it wasn’t really about the obstacle at all, but believing in ourselves and others. So in that heartfelt way that only Ms. Streep can, she said:
“Losing heart is the most dangerous thing. You can put an obstacle in front of me and I will jump over it. But if you lose heart, you lose everything. So you take your strength from your friends, from that one person in your life that has said, ‘You are capable.’ You only need one.”
By the end of the film I felt very uplifted because the message was clear: We are needed. And I think that’s what we all want – to know we contribute to bettering the world somehow.