The heart is one of the most powerful organs in the human body. It speaks to us, but we have to listen closely to hear it. At the age of 25, I finally was able to listen closely enough to figure out what my heart was trying to tell me: That I had been put on this earth to help educate the millions of girls worldwide who do not have access to school.
The first person in my family to graduate from college, I understand that getting a degree is about so much more than a piece of paper with your name on it. Education is a way of life. It's freedom. Education emboldens us to shatter glass ceilings, to test limits, and to become the agents of change our world so sorely needs.
Too often, I hear people say they want to change the world, but there’s something standing in their way. This “but” is the enemy of progress. We need to stop thinking about the challenges, and start thinking about solutions. Let’s be creative about the tools are our disposal. For instance, my project Pennies 4 Girls harnessed the power of the lowly penny. Pennies may seem insignificant—annoying even—but when collected they have power.
So far, I have collected over 1.4 million pennies and sent over 228 girls to school. This is a small fraction of the 130 million girls UNESCO estimates are not in school today. But it is a start. My project is also a testament to the powers of collaboration. Working together can make the impossible seem possible. This, truly, is the definition of a global citizen: someone with the passion, creativity and integrity to dream big, and follow through on those dreams. This was what attracted me to the Global Citizen Festival in the first place. Finally, I had found my tribe. Finally, I was surrounded by people who were unafraid to talk about big ideas like protecting the planet and bringing equality to people all over the world.
To end global poverty by 2030, all of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals must be effectively and strategically addressed. . We, as global citizens, can aid in this effort by pushing world leaders to complete their commitments. We must be mosquitoes in the ears of world leaders. At some point, you no longer can ignore us.
Not surprisingly, education is one of the most important sustainable development goals. When governments provide investment programs focused on education, they improve almost every aspect of society. Living standards improve and workforces grow and countries become economically stable.
But helping to ensure a better world for future generations will not be easy. Creating change is a constant effort that we must recommit ourselves to every day. This change can happen in small ways: For our wedding, my husband and I agreed on a “charisrty.” This means that instead of wedding presents, our guests could donate to a charity helping provide quality education for girls in Afghanistan. I also sent letters to our wedding vendors requesting their support. The fact so many people did join in our efforts was truly incredible. It was also a powerful reminder that in this effort, we must never be afraid of rejection.
As global citizens, it is our responsibility to keep up the pressure on world leaders, letting them know that actions speak louder than words. More importantly, these outreach efforts serve as a reminder that people are watching—they will be held accountable. Nelson Mandela knew what he was talking about when he said, “Education is a tool that can be used to change the world.” Today, I’m bearing witness to that.
If there’s an issue in the world that needs to be tackled, don’t be afraid to do your part in making a difference--use what you have and do what you can. One small difference is better than none at all.
Davina James is the founder of "Pennies 4 Girls"