Two years ago, I met a girl who wanted to be a teacher.
That shouldn't be an exceptional story. And it wouldn't have been, if I had been anywhere else in the world. But two years ago, I was sitting beneath a tin roof in a makeshift church building in a refugee camp along the Thai-Burma border, and the girl I was talking to was a refugee who fled through the jungles of Burma to seek safety in Thailand. She had little hope of ever leaving the camp, of ever seeing her home again, of ever living a life outside this tiny corner of the world. But she wanted to be a teacher. Instead of resigning herself to her fate, she got up and went to school, pursued her education, even sought a university degree right there in the camp.
As a child, I was always taught that education is the key to the future. In America, we seek education for the prestige of it, for higher salaries, for something to do with ourselves in our early twenties when we don't know what else to do. My friend, who struggled so hard just to find a place of safety, knew better than I the value of an education. She knew its power to encourage, to inspire, to give purpose. She refused to accept the constraints of being a girl with no country and sought to improve herself without the promise of a good job or a good salary or a fancy diploma hanging on the wall.
It was a lesson I needed to learn. I met my friend on a school trip during my final year of law school. I grew up in America, where it is no so exceptional to want to become a teacher, where getting an education is expected and demanded. I did well in school, and so I just kept going through college and straight on to law school. I was smart, and so I was expected to be impressive. By the time I reached my final year of law school, I was tired. Tired of school, tired of studying, tired of the path I'd chosen and wishing I hadn't saddled myself with the debt of higher education. I felt sorry for myself. I resented the opportunity because I never felt I had a choice.
In that refugee camp, beneath the rain falling on a tin roof in the jungle, I discovered a far darker path: to have no choice because there is no opportunity. Today, millions of girls around the world live that reality every day, denied the privilege of even a basic education because they are too poor, because it is not safe, because we have not invested enough in the power of the girl.
My friend did not resent anyone. She did not begrudge life for forcing her down this path. She saw her education as the blessing it was, not just to herself, but to all those around her. She enriched her life by going to school, by learning more each and every day, and in the future, she will share her knowledge with the next generation. Maybe someday she'll go home. Maybe someday she'll leave the camp. Or maybe she'll live out the rest of her life there. Either way, she is one of the millions of girls who wants education, who needs education, and never takes it for granted.
So now I'm paying it forward, and I'm using my opportunity to study International Human Rights Law so I can help girls like my friend in the refugee camp. My passion for education equality has also led me to support Room to Read, an NGO that works with communities and governments in the developing world to improve gender equality and literacy. By supporting Room to Read, we can all invest in a future in which that all children might someday have the opportunities they deserve.
Everyone deserves an education. Everyone deserves opportunities to improve their lives through learning. I hope my friend does become a teacher. I hope she inspires her students as much as she inspired me.