Girl Rising Advocates for Education Reform

By Grace Gu
Staff Writer

Kayce Freed Jennings, a producer of the film Girl Rising, made a speech on worldwide girls’ education and brought the powerful documentary to Peddie on Dec. 8.

The film portrayed changes observed in girls’ lives via education.

“We were inspired by a simple truth: if we educate girls, we can change the world,” Jennings said. “We learned, in the course of researching the causes of global poverty, that girls’ education is the single best investment we can make if we want to alleviate extreme poverty in the world.”

The film tells the stories of nine girls from nine different countries, all of whom were interpreted by female writers from the girls’ own countries. Girl Rising delves into the difficulty many girls face when trying to gain an education. It explains how certain factors, such as poverty, arranged marriage and beliefs that men’s education should be a priority, impede on women’s education.

From Wadley, a stubborn Chilean girl who relentless stays in school despite an earthquake rocking her world and her inability to afford tuition, to Suma, a Nepalese girl who, since four, had worked at various master’s houses and used her eagerness for education to strive for other girls’ rights to be educated, these nine girls each had their own story to reveal.

“While I loved all the stories, Azmera’s [the Ethiopian girl] really spoke to me,” Simona Newman-Ladjen ’15 said. “I can’t really put my finger on why, but her smile really warmed my heart and the love that her brother has for her is just so special.”

“I remember the last girl’s story from Afghanistan, who was married at a very young age and had a child,” Scout Zabinski ’16 said. “She could not pick anything for herself and she couldn’t even see the world unless it was through a mask made of cloth. I really began to appreciate just how fortunate I am and I couldn’t stop crying because of how strong each girl was.”

Science Teacher Kevin Brown, the organizer of this event, also expressed the connection he felt with the film.

“I remembered the Cambodia[n] story the most because I lived there for a year when I first finished college,” Brown said. “Most people there working in the dump didn’t have enough money to send their kids to school. I even encountered a man who begged me to adopt his daughter by paying me.”

While the documentary turned out well, the filming process was long, Jennings said. It took the film producers six years to make Girl Rising. During these years, the team traveled to each country several times, narrowed down the selection and screened the girls.

The writers who accompanied the film spent time with the girl and did their best to absorb her world. While all the other girls were filmed in the actual countries, the Egyptian and Afghanistan girls could not be filmed in person due to security concerns.

Despite encountering many difficulties, the film team remained optimistic. Under the executive director Richard E. Robbins, the team decided to take a different approach. Thus, the final edition of the film embodied hope throughout and alternated among happiness, sadness and excitement.

“We didn’t know at the time what the film would be like, but we decided one thing: that it wouldn’t leave people feeling depressed about the girls’ lives or guilty about their own lives,” Jennings said. “In fact, we hoped people leaving the theater would feel hopeful and excited about the promise and possibility that the girls of Girl Rising represent.”

Students’ reactions proved that the film achieved its intended effect.

“I liked how the films had ups and downs,” Tanvi Dange ’17 said. “I especially enjoyed the story of the girl who worked at a radio station in Sierra Leone and solved many peoples’ problems.”

Currently, Girl Rising is advocating for a change in education. The film has been widely shown and screenings have continued.  Numerous screenings have taken place in theaters, schools, communities, government agencies, etc. The film has been televised on CNN and overseas.

“In the end, girls’ education does make a difference in the world because this investment allows them to start a family later and contribute to their societies in their own unique ways,” said Brown.