How Far Would You Go For an Education?
May is National Walking Month, and across the nation, commutes are getting a little brisker. Armed with Fitbits and Nikes, people are getting off the tube one stop early, leaving the car in the garage, or rounding up the kids for a (literal) school run. A whole week is dedicated to the school run, the Walk to School Week (15-19 May). Encouraged by school programmes promoting health benefits and family time, kids of all ages will be marched through the streets of towns across the UK this May.
Sylvia*, who walks to school every day anyway, would make a model participant in the National Walking Month. Sylvia’s shoes are second-hand, and they are worn out flip-flops, not trainers, but still she walks. Sylvia’s mother and stepfather can’t walk with her to school, but still she walks. Sylvia’s school is 7km from her home. But still she walks**.
Sylvia is from Tanzania, where free primary education was introduced in 2001. She isn’t walking for the health benefits: she is walking because she has to. She is one of millions of children around the world who endure long and perilous trips every day in order to get an education. The Bertha Foundation has reported that, in worst-case scenarios, these walks can result in such atrocities as primary-school children drowning whilst crossing rivers, and the abduction or rape of girls and young women.
Remarkably, Sylvia is considered one of the lucky ones. She dodges kidnap, rattlesnakes and trains on her way to the village school. But she has made it this far, and, crucially, her efforts have not been in vain. Although it is far from home, there is a school for her to attend, and for free. 58 million children today are missing out on a primary education. The knock-on effects of poverty‒ the family requirement for child labour, lack of trained teachers, or sheer absence of a school‒ affect children living in in poverty worldwide. Others never begin schooling, or face interrupted schooling, due to war or natural disasters. Girls are at particular risk of not being educated, many of them living in societies that discourage girls’ education, promote child marriage, and present difficulties in relation to menstruation and lack of sanitation. Sylvia’s own stepfather considers her a financial burden. But, for the time being at least, Sylvia can and will study regardless. She is only a child, but she understands the significance of education for improving the conditions her own life, and for breaking the cycle of poverty. So she’s willing to risk the walk.
Most of us in the UK are lucky enough to be able to walk by choice. So this National Walking Month, take to the streets not just for the fresh air, or to shed a couple of pounds. Take to the streets for the millions of children who have to, and for the millions again who cannot. Charities and NGOs such as UNICEF and Plan International have comprehensive programmes based upon changing attitudes within societies, providing financial access to education, and even facilitating the logistics of travel, such as buying bicycles for students. We Make Change can connect you to the charity of your choice and provide options for you to express your support for children around the world. This National Walking Month, think about Sylvia and the millions of children like her. It might just make that rainy 6am start seem a little bit easier.
Megan Rose Griffiths, Blog Editor
* Name changed by Plan International for protection.
** Sylvia’s story recorded by Plan International, published by the BBC.
At We Make Change our mission is to give you the power to change the world. Find out more here.
More from Children
Rescue Them, Rescue Us: A Review of David Miliband’s ‘Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time’
Grenfell Tower survivors mourn…Harry and Meghan to marry next May…Refugees abused by border forces in the Balkans…England’s cricketers collapse against …