Monday, May 12, 2014

My mother's legacy (a speech)

My mom and sister Sandy

Note: This is a speech I gave for the Speakeasy@Sun Toastmasters Club  speech contest a few months ago. It won first place at the club contest so I gave the speech for the District 4, Area F2 contest. It won first place there so I represented Area F2 at the Division F speech contest where it did not place.
Mom, Sandy, and my nephew Zach Hays

“Get in the closet.”

“I don’t want to, Ba.”

“Get in the closet now!”

When my mother was six years old, the truant officer came to her door and my grandfather ordered her to hide in the closet. Why? Because he didn’t want to have to send her to school.

My mother was allowed to go to school the following year because she could then walk her younger brother to school.

At 19, my mother graduated from high school in Washington, DC. A talented artist, she was asked to apply for a scholarship at Corcoran Gallery of Art Art School. She won a two-year scholarship and when she told her parents, my grandparents, they sighed and told her, “Nancy, we don’t want you to go to school. You stay home, work in the restaurant and help your brother go to college.”

Despite the discouragement, my mother’s art teacher urged her to take the scholarship. The art teacher, in fact, went to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and persuaded them to give my mother the second place prize of a 1-year scholarship and give the 2-year scholarship to another student. After that, my grandparents relented and allowed my mother to take the 1-year scholarship.

After art school, my mother worked for a few years as a mapmaker for the Navy and then married my father. She had five kids, stayed at home, helped my dad’s career and took care of the five of us. She used to tell me, “Cyndi, you will go to college and have a career. You will have the choices that I didn’t have.”

I was lucky; my parents paid for my university and my mother encouraged, almost demanded that I get an education and have a career. But many girls are not so lucky. In fact most girls don’t have the chance to get an education or even have a decent way of making a living. They may be pushed into having sex just to feed themselves. They may have no education, no social networks, and no access to financial services. So they marry early or are sexually harassed or abused.

We have the ability to help others around the world. But what is the best way to do that?

Invest in girls. Why? Because research shows that when you invest in girls, you get a better return on investment or ROI.

Educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. Research from the World Bank (1) shows that investing in girls so that they reach the next level of education would mean a gain of lifetime earnings equal to 54 percent of annual gross domestic product.

When you invest in a girl she will return about more of her resources to help her family and community. This phenomenon is so startling it even has a name. It’s called the Girl Effect.

When you invest in educating a girl, she will more likely control family planning. She will have fewer children, not more, and she will to take better care of her children. If you don’t help educate girls, they will have more children with the hopes that one of them may survive.

My mother passed away a few months ago so I’ve been thinking of the legacy she gave to me and the legacy I’d like to give the world.

I have both a daughter and a son. My daughter is grown and graduated from college. I have every intention to help my son to get an education as well.

But here is my call to action. When you give to others, such as a charity or a non-profit, consider giving to organizations that help girls and women.

Imagine yourself a girl, 11-years old in Afghanistan, whose parents are forcing you to leave school and get married. Or imagine yourself a 14-year old girl in Nepal who works as an indentured servant from 6 am to 9 pm at night. Then imagine someone you don’t know in another country sends money so you can go to school. Will it make a difference? You bet it will.

If we invest in the education of girls and we can make the world a better place, not just for the girls, but for the boys, the men, and the women, for all of us. Help get girls out of the closet and into school.

(1) Jad Chaaban and Wendy Cunningham, 2011, Measuring the Economic Gain of Investing in Girls The Girl Effect Dividend

Links to check out: