This post is part of a series authored by First Lady Michelle Obama to share her visit to Japan and Cambodia and the Let Girls Learn initiative with young people in the U.S.
This week, I will be traveling to Japan and Cambodia – and I want young people like you across America to join me!
This trip technically starts today when I leave the White House and get on a plane for a long flight to Asia. But really, this visit is part of a journey that began decades ago, back when I was a little girl.
Like many of you, I came from a pretty modest background. My family didn’t have much money, and my parents raised me and my brother, Craig, in a tiny apartment in Chicago, Illinois. While my mom and dad never had the chance to attend college, they were determined to see me and Craig get the best education possible.
School was the center of our lives, and I worked as hard as I could to learn as much as possible. I often woke up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning to study, because that was the only time our little apartment was ever really quiet.
With my parents’ encouragement and a lot of hard work, I was able to get into college and get the financial aid I needed to pay for it – and my college education opened doors of opportunity I never could have dreamed of back in that tiny apartment. I studied subjects I was passionate about – like English literature, African American history and sociology. I met classmates and professors from all over the world who opened my mind to all kinds of new ideas. And because I got my college degree, I was able to attend law school, become a lawyer, work in city government and as a hospital executive, and even run a non-profit organization that trained young people in Chicago to serve their communities.
Unfortunately, so many girls just like me and like many of you – girls who are so curious and hungry to learn, and so willing to work hard – never have the chance to get an education. Right now, 62 million girls worldwide are not in school at all. Many of them simply can’t afford the school fees (unlike in America, where every student can go to school for free, in many countries, parents have to pay to send their children to school). Sometimes, even if their parents can afford it, the nearest school might be miles away, and it’s simply not safe for girls to walk there and back each day. Sometimes, a school will be located nearby, but it might not have bathrooms for girls, so they simply can’t attend. And in some countries, girls are forced to get married and have children at a young age – sometimes before they’re even teenagers – instead of getting an education.
This is such a heartbreaking loss, not just for those girls, but for their families, communities and countries. Studies show that girls who attend school have healthier families, earn higher salaries and even help boost their entire countries’ economies.
That’s why, earlier this month, the United States Government launched a new initiative called Let Girls Learn that will help girls worldwide go to school and stay in school. Through Let Girls Learn, we’ll be supporting education projects across the globe – leadership programs and mentorship programs, and so much more.
But the United States can’t address the global girls’ education crisis all by ourselves – it’s just too big. We need countries around the world to step up and help. That’s why I’m starting my trip in Japan – because this week, the United States and Japan will be announcing a new partnership to educate girls worldwide, and we’ll be calling on other countries to join us in this effort.
After spending a few days in Japan, I will be heading to Cambodia, which is one of the very first countries where Let Girls Learn programs will operate. I will visit a school and meet with girls whose lives are being transformed by the power of education.
But while the focus of Let Girls Learn is international, this effort is also very much about inspiring young people like you here at home to truly commit to your own education.
Through Let Girls Learn, I hope that more girls – and boys – here in America will learn about the sacrifices that girls around the world are making just to go to school each day: working multiple jobs to pay their school fees, enduring threats and harassment from people in their communities who think girls shouldn’t attend school, walking for hours each way to school, and more.
I want all of you to be inspired and motivated by these girls. I want you to realize that while your own school might be far from perfect – and my husband is working as hard as he can to fix that – you still need to show up to your classroom every day and learn as much as you can.
And finally, I want young people like you to be citizens of the world – I want you to connect with other young people of every background and nationality and learn about what’s happening in countries across the globe.
That’s why, as I travel, I will be using all kinds of social media to share my trip with you – and I’ll be taking questions from kids across America as I go.
So I hope you’ll join me – here’s how: