This past weekend I visited Camp Young Judaea Midwest in Waupaca, Wisconsin, the sleep away camp I attended for ten summers, from the time I was a young girl to three years as a counselor. For me, camp is a second home, a place dedicated to personal growth and self-exploration. At camp, I learned to build a community of lifelong friends. At camp, I learned about the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, or our obligation to repair the world and make it a better place. And at camp, I was taught by my counselors to think critically and sensitively about issues happening around the world.
So, I returned to camp to lead an activity about why education for girls everywhere is so important and how the issue is relevant. My goal: to help the campers recognize the value of education, to understand that millions of girls around the world are kept out of school because of their gender, and to empower them to believe that just because they are kids doesn’t mean they can’t make change too. How appropriate to share the stories about the strength and perseverance of girls in Ecuador the same age as the campers working to pay for their own education.
A group of 15 girls ranging from 3rd grade to entering college, came to my session. To begin, I asked the group to count how many years each of them had been in school. “7 years,” one of the younger campers proclaimed. “12” another counted. “16,” “15,” “8,” they shouted out. It seemed that each camper was more proud of the next for how many years she had been a student.
I then asked the group, how many of them knew girls from their towns who weren’t allowed to go to school because they were girls. Some of the campers stared at me with confused looks on their faces, as if asking, why would a girl not be allowed to go to school? When I asked the question again, I was met with silence.
I explained that in a lot of countries, girls are denied a right to an education because of their gender. But what I wanted to focus on was not only that girls around the world are kept out of classrooms, but about all the girls, who despite extreme barriers, are fighting for their right to an education. These are girls who understand that education is the key to opportunity. These are girls who will not let their community’s standards stop them from achieving. These are girls who are empowering others around them to break out of the mold that they were born into.
While I was uncertain if the campers would really understand the underlying message of the discussion, they proved me wrong. When I asked the group why they believe education is important, one camper, Maya, age 8, answered with a steady voice and clear eyes. She said “Education is powerful. Education is powerful because without it, you won’t have a job or money. And without those things, you’ll be stressed and that will hurt your family too. That’s why education is a powerful tool. We need it.”
Maya’s words made me think back to Lucia, a 14 year old girl I met in Ecuador on the Intel for Change trip. Lucia knows that education is her chance to a better life and so she breeds and sells guinea pigs each week to pay for her school fees. Although Lucia and the campers from CYJ Midwest may never meet, they share the understanding that education is what moves an individual, their community, and the world forward.
I have no doubt in my mind that these campers have the ability and the desire to move the world ahead. I’m excited to see how they choose to repair the broken things around them, using education to make the world a better place.