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Posts Tagged ‘Asia’

I grew up taking my education for granted.

Well, not entirely for granted – I always loved school, especially English class, and it was absolutely expected that I’d do well in high school (I did) and then go to college (I did, and loved that too). Thanks to my parents (and my status as a white, middle-class American), I managed all of the above with no financial sacrifice and certainly no social risk on my part. I went on to earn a master’s degree, with a little financial sacrifice – but nobody ever told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t get more education because I am a woman.

However – as you certainly know – there are millions of girls in the developing world who struggle for every single scrap of education they can get. Most of them are expected to marry young, or drop out of school to help their families. Many are at risk for sex trafficking, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. And all of them would benefit immensely from education.

The good news: there are many programs out there that work with young girls to keep them healthy, safe, unmarried and in school for as long as possible – ideally, until they’re adults who can decide for themselves when to marry and have children, and/or whether to have a career (and what kind). I’m writing this post as part of the 2011 Girl Effect blogging campaign, and the Girl Effect website has linked up with various programs supporting education for girls – but I’d also like to highlight two organizations close to my heart, because they are run by friends of mine: Eternal Threads and Sanctuary Home for Children.

Eternal Threads, founded by Linda Egle, works with women in developing countries, who use their handicraft skills to generate income for themselves, their children and their villages. Their partner in Nepal works with girls rescued from or at risk for sex trafficking, teaching them to knit and sew, and their partner in Thailand works with rescued girls and refugees, teaching them to make jewelry, so they can make a better life for themselves. They also work with women in India, Madagascar and Afghanistan – and they are starting new projects all the time. In just a decade, these projects have made an enormous difference for hundreds of women in the developing world. (And their products are beautiful – check out their online store.)

I’ve written before about my friend Amanda’s project, Sanctuary Home for Children – an orphanage in Tenali, India, which started in 2006 with 30 children and now houses nearly 100. Many of the children are orphans, and others have family members who can’t care for them. All of them are in dire straits financially, and in danger of having to live on the street when they come to SH. About half of them are girls who gain several years of safety, education and good health by living at SH. Several of the girls have now completed their secondary education, or received vocational training in sewing, and all of them have learned to read and had a safe place to live and enjoy their childhood – a rare thing for many girls in the developing world.

I may have taken my education for granted – but I can guarantee you that the girls helped by Sanctuary Home, Eternal Threads, and other like-minded organizations will never do so. Whether you buy products from Eternal Threads, donate to support the work of Sanctuary Home, or simply spread the word about supporting the education of girls, you will be making a real, tangible difference in these girls’ lives.

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I like to flatter myself that I’m pretty well-traveled. After all, I’ve been to 24 states and eight countries, and I lived abroad for three semesters (a semester in Oxford as an undergrad and then a year there as a grad student). But I tend to revisit – and read about – the same types of places over and over again. Oxford has my heart, but I adore the UK in general. I never, ever get tired of Paris memoirs; I love stories about Americans forging new lives in Europe because that’s a dream of mine; I drool over Little Brown Pen’s Paris pictures on a regular basis; and yes, I loved Eat, Pray, Love (but the Italy section was my favorite).

Recently, however, I read and reviewed two collections of travel essays – The Best American Travel Writing 2011, and the much more interestingly titled Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar – both of which were extensive tours of places I would never, ever choose to travel. (This is partly because several essays in the first collection, and all the essays in the second one, were set in war zones, where, frankly, I’ve never had any desire to go.) I think the locales in the Best American anthology – Saudi Arabia, Haiti, Moscow, Mumbai, Serbia – provide a clear portrait of where America’s eyes are focused these days (namely: the Middle East, the sites of natural disasters, and rapidly developing countries of all stripes). There was only one gentle European essay, about a man in pursuit of Monet, and while it was lovely, it sort of paled in comparison to the other, more vivid – and usually more shocking – stories.

The map of stories in Mud Crabs reads similarly, though of course conflict is overtly present in every single story, not just hiding behind the scenes. (And the conditions for war-zone journalists are worse than for travel writers in peacetime, however uneasy the peace.) But despite the fact that I would never choose most of these locales to visit (or, usually, to read about), I was totally swept up in the stories of these people, and their keen-eyed observations of cultures so totally different, so completely Other, than my own. It’s a testament, in part, to great travel writing, which evokes a place in a few well-chosen details and conversations. But perhaps it also represents a broadening of my own horizons.

I’m still not sure I want to go to Asia or Africa or the Middle East on my next trip – besides the concerns for safety in some of these places, I suspect I’ll always be an Anglophile at heart. But I’m learning to appreciate stories from all locales, however war-torn or foreign to me, and I think that’s got to count for something.

What places do you like to read about that you’d never choose to go?

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