Sokha

Cambodia | 13 00 N, 105 00 E
"This is her story to write"

 
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Sokha was a Cambodian child of the dump; orphaned and forced to pick through garbage to survive. But, through a series of miracles, Sokha finds her way to school and, like a phoenix, rises to become a star student on the brink of a brilliant and once unimaginable future.

The Country

Cambodia’s children suffer for the sins of their fathers. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly every modern advance in health care, civic life and literacy, leaving the country hamstrung by this tragic period ever since. Today, about one third of Cambodian children are enrolled in secondary school - and attendance rates are much lower.

The Writer

Sokha’s story is told by Loung Ung, one of the most powerful voices to emerge from Cambodia. Her bestselling memoirs, like First They Killed My Father, have brought home the tragedy of Cambodia for millions of readers.

The Voice

Grammy Award-winner Alicia Keys narrates Sokha’s story. Says Keys, “It’s an honor to be a part of Girl Rising. It’s a powerful film that has potential to inspire change in the world. If you’re not moved, you’re not breathing.”

Today

Sokha graduated from high school in Cambodia in August 2016 and started college in the United States in September 2016. Sokha is studying hospitality management in Chicago, with support from Girl Rising and her longtime sponsors Holly and Terry Light. She now lives in an apartment near the college with a roommate. Sokha is a regular at Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks games. It just so happens that Bill Smith, the founder of A New Day Cambodia (ANDC), is the photographer for the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and Bears. ANDC rescued Sokha from the garbage dump in Phnom Penh and has supported her education for many years.

“I love my college so much,” Sokha told us. “I will always try my best to fulfill my dream and set a perfect role for every girl.

 
  Sokha and Loung Ung.

Sokha and Loung Ung.

 
 

Wadley

Haiti | 19 00 N, 72 25 W
"Impossible Things Seem Possible"

 
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Wadley is just 7 when the world comes crashing down around her. Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake destroys her home and school, but it cannot break her irrepressible spirit nor extinguish her thirst to learn, even as she’s turned away from the schoolhouse day after day.

The Country

Haiti is just a stone’s throw from Miami, but had been shackled by poverty for generations even before the devastating earthquake of 2010. Recovery continues, but slowly. Getting an education is as hard as ever and Haiti still relies heavily on foreign aid. Hope remains, but tinged with fear. Our cameraman described his country this way: “Haiti has a chance, but it’s Haiti’s last chance.”

The Writer

Edwidge Danticat tells Wadley’s story. A finalist for both the PEN / Faulkner and National Book Awards, and winner of the American Book Award, Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory was an Oprah Book Club selection. Her writing is a testament to the richness of Haitian life and to the power of language to bridge cultural divides.

The Voice

Wadley’s story is narrated by Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett, who says, “I not only believe in a girl’s right to an education, but I believe in the power of storytelling through film. I am proud to be a part of Girl Rising.”

Today

Wadley keeps busy or, as she put it: “There’s a lot on the menu.”

Wadley, now in grade 6, is one of the top students in her class in Port-au-Prince. Her favorite subjects are math and especially science, which she believes will be the most useful in the future. She is hoping to realize her dream of becoming a doctor. Her academic day ends at 2pm, but she stays at school until 5pm to do her homework. She loves music, art, sports and computer science. During vacations, Wadley takes English classes – but she wishes she could take more frequently. She looks forward to to the day she can communicate with the Girl Rising team in English.

She has also developed a love of photography, since Partners in Health gave her a camera. Her first question upon meeting someone is usually if she can take their picture; her second request is to look through the pictures they have taken on their phone.

Haiti often bears the brunt of natural disasters. But unlike the earthquake of 2010, which devastated Port au Prince and Wadley’s home, the family largely unaffected by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

 
  Edwidge Danticat and Wadley.

Edwidge Danticat and Wadley.

 
 

Suma

Nepal | 28 00 N, 84 00 E
"We Must Set Her Free"

 
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Though her brothers go to school, Suma is forced into bonded labor at age 6. The Nepali girl endures years of grueling work by expressing her sorrow in beautiful music and lyrics. Suma glimpses a different future by learning to read, the first step on the road to freedom.

The Country

The geography of Nepal is at once the source of its mystique and its indomitable challenge. The towering Himalayas, running through the country like a spine, have created villages isolated from one another and the world. Life in Nepal is especially hard for girls, who continue to lag far behind boys in educational opportunity.

The Writer

Manjushree Thapa tells Suma’s story. A writer and activist whose fiction and non-fiction help to elucidate the complicated world of modern Nepal, Thapa writes with a full heart and a sharp eye, and with a fierce commitment to protecting the vulnerable through her work.

The Voice

Suma’s story is narrated by film star Kerry Washington, Golden Globe Award winner, Emmy nominee, and activist working to end violence against women and girls.

Today

Suma is now a certified Community Medical Assistant, having completed a 29-month course in 2016, which included on the job training. Next step: pursuing a more advanced medical course that will allow Suma to open a medical clinic in her village, where there is currently no doctor. Her ultimate goal is to become a social worker.

Suma continues to speak out against the practice of kamlari, and in support for former Kamlaris. In 2016, she shared her story with global leaders and educators at the Varkey Foundation’s international conference on education in Dubai. Suma is now taking English and computer lessons so she can become a more effective advocate.

Suma was rescued by Nepal Youth Foundation in the year 2007 and put through a bridge course to make up for her lost studies before enrolling her in school. Room to Read worked with Girl Rising to support Suma for several years until she left high school and aged out of their programs. The Nepal Youth Foundation is now managing Suma’s continuing education.

 
  Manjushree Thapa and Suma.

Manjushree Thapa and Suma.

 
 

Yasmin

EGYPT | 27 00 N, 30 00 E
"He was strong, but i was stronger"

 
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A young Egyptian girl falls prey to a violent attack but, rather than become a victim, she becomes a superhero. Yasmin’s is the story of the triumph of imagination over a reality too painful to bear.

The Country

The Arab Spring drew the world’s eye, but Egypt was already in flux– not least in the changing roles of women. Egypt has free and compulsory education, but it is still unevenly distributed. The literacy rate for females is 65.4% compared to 82.2% for males (CIA World Factbook). Girls are poised to reap the rewards of a modern Egypt, but only if they gain the access to education and the freedom from gender violence they deserve.

The Writer

Mona Eltahawy tells Yasmin’s story. An award-winning journalist and international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, New York-based Eltahawy is also an activist with a prominent voice both in America and her native Egypt.

The Voice

Yasmin’s story is narrated by actress Chlöe Moretz, whose work and charitable contributions were honored by Women In Film with the Face of the Future award.

Today

When we were last in touch, Yasmin was engaged and had not been to school. The volatility of life for Cairo’s poor has only been amplified by the current climate, and despite our partner organization’s efforts to enroll Yasmin in literacy classes, her mother considered a marriage proposal to be a more secure investment in her daughter’s future. Our partners continue to work with us to create opportunities for girls like Yasmin to succeed, and to shift society’s perspectives of girls’ education to a positive one.

 
  Mona Eltahawy and Yasmin.

Mona Eltahawy and Yasmin.

 
 

Azmera

Ethiopia | 8 00 N, 38 00 E
"This life is mine to make"

 
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When 13-year old Azmera is told she must marry, she does something shocking; she says no. Meet an Ethiopian family where a brother champions his younger sister’s cause to be educated and to be free.

The Country

A land of vast skies and an ancient, rich culture, Ethiopia consistently ranks as one of the most difficult places on earth to be a girl. In a country of nearly 95 million people, girls sit at the very bottom of the social structure – and, sadly, anything but the most rudimentary education remains out of reach for most.

The Writer

Maaza Mengiste tells Azmera’s story. A Fulbright scholar whose critically acclaimed debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, appeared on several notable bestseller lists, Mengiste writes with empathy for her characters as well as an understanding of the complex forces that shape their world.

The Voice

Azmera’s story is narrated by multiple Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep, who says, “This film delivers hope: reasonable, measurable, tangible hope that the world can be healed and helped to a better future.”

Today

Azmera is in high school now. As there is no secondary school in her village, she attends school in a nearby city, where she lives with her mother. World Vision works with Girl Rising to support Azmera so she can continue her education and realize her ambitions to become a teacher and a community leader, working against child marriage and supporting other female children who aren’t able to attend school.

 
  Maaza Mengiste and Azmera.

Maaza Mengiste and Azmera.

 
 

Ruksana

India | 20 00 N, 77 00 E
"I wont give up now"

 
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Ruksana’s family are “pavement dwellers” – living on the streets of Kolkata, India, where her father has sacrificed everything to send his daughters to school. Ruksana’s life is filled with danger but she escapes into her artwork and draws strength from her father’s resolve.

The Country

India has one of the world’s fastest growing economies, but an equally rapidly growing population, resulting in one of the lowest per-capita incomes worldwide. The complexity and scope of both problems and opportunities for disadvantaged girls in India are as vast as its size, but if the country enrolled just 1% more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion.

The Writer

Ruksana’s story is told by Sooni Taraporevala, the award-winning screenwriter of Mississippi Masala, The Namesake and the Academy Award-nominated Salaam Bombay. She was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honor, in 2014.

The Voice

Priyanka Chopra narrates Ruksana’s story. The singer, actor and Girl Rising India producer says, “It is a global issue and it will take everyone coming together, across international borders and cultural divides, to support those who are standing up for equality in education.”

Today

Ruksana continues to live in Kolkata with her parents, three sisters, and brother. She attends school and, along with her academics, takes drama, drawing and dance lessons. World Vision works with Girl Rising to support Ruksana and her siblings with school supplies, tutoring, tuition support, and medical assistance. In addition they, and other neighborhood girls, receive extracurricular coaching. It includes English classes, which help to boost their confidence and school performance, and computer classes.

As part of the empowerment initiative, this year the girls will begin hosting screenings of Girl Rising at schools and colleges in Calcutta.

After joining our team in Mumbai for the launch of Girl Rising India, Ruksana had this to say: “Flying high up in the air was a dream come true for me. I had never thought I will be able to fly like birds and meet celebrities in Mumbai.”

 
  Sooni Taraporevala and Ruksana.

Sooni Taraporevala and Ruksana.

 
 

Senna

Peru | 10 00 S, 76 00 W
"Poetry is how I turn fear into will"

 
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Senna’s family struggles to survive in a bleak Peruvian mining town. Her father has dreams for her, and insists she go to school. There, she discovers the transformative power of poetry. Her passion and talent seem to ensure she’ll have a better future, and be the success her father dreamed she’d be.

The Country

Peru is the most prosperous country in the film. But that fact can be deceptive. For many indigenous Peruvians, education remains an unattainable luxury. This is especially true for girls in the mountains and jungles where so much of Peru’s prosperity, in the form of natural resources, is being pulled from the ground.

The Writer

Marie Arana tells Senna’s story. Born in Lima to a Peruvian father and an American mother, the author, editor and journalist is deeply engaged in both worlds. A writer of fiction and memoir, Arana has dedicated herself to explaining each culture to the other. Her commitment to Peru, and to the struggles of the disadvantaged there, permeates her work.

The Voice

Senna’s story is narrated by Academy Award-nominee Salma Hayek, who says, “Many women around the world continue to struggle for equality in education. I hope Girl Rising raises the visibility on a global level for this fundamental issue.”

Today

With CARE’s help, Senna’s family moved off the mountaintop to a city with better housing and schools. Senna completed high school and is currently in college, studying business, engineering and computer science. In 2015, she gave birth to a beautiful daughter and is now more determined than ever to complete her education. Her mother helps care for the baby, so Senna can focus on her studies and give Ariana the best future possible. Ariana makes her feel strong, Senna told us. Senna’s younger brother, Henry, is in school and doing well.

 
  Senna and Marie Arana.

Senna and Marie Arana.

 
 

Mariama

Sierra Leone | 8 30 N, 11 30 W
"There is nothing to stop me"

 
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Mariama, a teenager from war-torn Sierra Leone, is the voice of the future. The first in her family to go to school, she has her own radio show, big dreams and boundless imagination.

The Country

A 10-year civil war and the 2015 Ebola epidemic leaves a country broken. Sierra Leone has struggled to rebound and is still among the world’s poorest nations, with education being a primary casualty of crises. Two-thirds of adults are illiterate and only half of young girls are in primary school. Far fewer make it through secondary school. Severe teaching shortages, classroom overcrowding and a weak institutional system characterize the state of education in Sierra Leone today.

The Writer

Aminatta Forna tells Mariama’s story. Forna’s novel, The Memory of Love, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award 2011 and was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Warwick Prize. Forna was a finalist for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

The Voice

Mariama’s story is narrated by actress, singer, fashion designer and UNICEF ambassador Selena Gomez.

Today

Mariama is still living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with her four siblings, mother, and father. She passed her senior exams in her first sitting—a real accomplishment since some students have to take the exam two or three times before passing. KoCEPO, the organization that helps Girl Rising support Mariama, shared that Mariama chose to take her exams a second time to try to score even higher to give herself more options for university. It paid off and Mariama is now at university studying engineering.

In the future, Mariama would like to advocate for education for girls from lower income families, as she thinks education is the key to fight the marginalization of women in society. Her role models are Sia Koroma, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, whom she admires for her work promoting girls’ education and reducing maternal mortality; Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner for the National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, for her success in conducting an election with no violence and for her work in establishing the Forum of African Women Educationists (FAWE); and Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, for her campaign to get girls in school.

In her free time, Mariama likes to read, do media work, and spend time with her friends. Mariama and her family remain safe following Sierra Leone’s devastating mudslides in 2017.

 
  Mariama and Aminatta Forna.

Mariama and Aminatta Forna.

 
 

Amina

Afghanistan | 33 00 N, 65 00 E
"I am change"

 
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Amina is constrained by Afghan society, confined by her gender and expected only to serve men. But this child bride has had enough. She is determined to reject the limitations prescribed by society and to lead others to do the same.

The Country

The notoriously conflict-ridden country of Afghanistan has suffered serious injury to its infrastructure, particularly in education, during several decades of war. But Afghanistan is in the midst of massive change and, after decades of exclusion, girls are being allowed to go to school again. The tragedy and hope of girls’ education is writ large in the mountains of Afghanistan.

The Writer

Zarghuna Kargar tells Amina’s story. The Kabul-born journalist and author of the heartwrenching book of stories, Dear Zari, has done as much to expand our understanding of women in Afghanistan as any writer in the world.

The Voice

Amina’s story is narrated by Anne Hathaway, Academy Award Winner, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and longtime advocate for children’s, women’s and LGBT rights.

Today

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer any update on Amina. Ongoing communication with the NGO which aids her could endanger both Amina’s safety and the very work of the organization. But there is some good news. Today, there are more girls in school than in any time during Afghanistan’s history, and strides of progress in the area of girls’ education continue to be made.

 
  Zarghuna Kargar.

Zarghuna Kargar.

 

Did you know that Girl Rising: The Fifth Anniversary Edition includes “Where Are They Now” videos?

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