It is said that when sprouting blades of grass are covered by concrete, they can work their way through the tiniest of crevices and ultimately break through to sunshine. By means of the transformative power of education, girls in the most impoverished countries can similarly break through apparently impermeable obstacles to a life of freedom, dignity, and fulfillment. This is the message of Girl Rising, a dramatic, feature-length documentary film that chronicles the achievements of girls in nine countries to educate themselves against all odds.
With an all-star cast of narrators, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Selena Gomez, Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett, and Alicia Keys, Girl Rising moves beyond the alarming statistics to focus on the true stories of individual girls. It is mind-numbing to contemplate that a fourth of all girls worldwide are born into extreme poverty, and most of them are forced into arranged marriages, usually with older men, before the age of 16. But the stories of individual girls open our minds and hearts to the painful realities that statistics sometimes obscure more than they illuminate.
Girl Rising is disturbing and inspiring in equal measure. The nine girls whose lives are depicted in this film each draw upon a deep well of determination to go to school in order to create a new world, not only for themselves but for society. The depth of their poverty is matched and exceeded by their drive to overcome it. They are agents of change and a global resource available to us all.
The nine girls in this film represent nine developing or impoverished nations: Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. The story of the girl from Peru is somewhat representative. Her family lives at an elevation of 17,000 feet, on a mountain in the Andes, where a gold mining operation is the almost exclusive source of employment.
Two thousand tons of ore must be mined to produce sufficient gold to create two rings. The girl's mother and father both spend their lives drilling and hammering rock and never acquire an iota of gold for themselves. Yet her father was adamant that his daughter should go to school, and there she discovered poetry, which transformed and liberated her. She reads poetry with power and passion, and at the age of fourteen has already been honored for her own poems. She says poetry is the gold she discovered within herself.
The story of the girl from Afghanistan is equally compelling. Most of the girls in this film appeared on camera as themselves, but the girl from Afghanistan could not do so for fear she would be killed by her uncle, her brother, or even her own father. She had just enough schooling to realize the potential of education to liberate her from the cage of the heavy veil she was required to wear, and all it represented.
At the age of eleven, this girl was forced into marriage with a much older man in exchange for a sum of money. As she put it, "My body is a resource that can be spent for men's pleasure or profit." The money her family received was used to buy her brother a used car. She said the seed her husband implanted in her on her wedding night produced the son he wanted as well as an anger in her that continues to grow. She gave birth at the age of twelve.
The individual stories and the statistics weave together a common theme: Education is the engine of change for impoverished girls all over the globe. Schooling is to the mind as food is to the body: an essential source of nourishment and growth. This is a message of hope as well as of responsibility. We are the world. These girls are not separate from us. They speak to us directly in Girl Rising, and if we hear them, we will find a way to help them realize their vision and their dreams.
Girl Rising was directed by Academy Award nominee Richard E. Robbins. It was created in collaboration with CNN, Intel, and 10 x 10, an organization devoted to the empowerment of women through education worldwide. The portion on Afghanistan was produced and directed by independent filmmaker Ramaa Mosley. The stories of the individual girls were taken from the published works of writers in each country, including Marie Arana, Sooni Taraporevala, Aminatta Forna, and Zarghuna Kargar. The producers of the film include The Documentary Group and Vulcan Productions.