To mark the International Day of the Girl on October 11, former First Lady Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize winning advocate for girls education had a conversation with Priya Mondol, a 17-year-old student in Kolkata, who has overcome obstacles in pursuing education with the help of Her Future Coalition, an organization supported by the Girls Opportunity Alliance, which is in turn supported by the Obama Foundation.
In a Facebook post, the former First Lady, wrote:
“With so much going on these days, one thing that always gives me hope is the resilience of young women around the world. You’ll see that resolve on full display in a conversation I recently had in Teen Vogue with Malala and Priya Mondol, a 17-year-old student from the Girls Opportunity Alliance community in India. We teamed up to discuss an issue we all care about deeply: global girls’ education. Many of you know Malala’s remarkable story of standing up for her own education and for the education of girls everywhere. And Priya embodies that same kind of perseverance. Even before the pandemic, Priya faced obstacles to getting an education. While early studies predict that the pandemic may lead to millions more girls never returning to school, Priya is determined not to let COVID-19 end her dreams of graduating and going to college.
Priya is continuing to learn online, moving closer towards her goals with the help of Her Future Coalition, an organization we support through the Girls Opportunity Alliance. I’m proud of this work, and it’s so important that we all do our part to ensure that girls like Priya have the resources they need to keep learning while staying healthy and safe. So as we gear up for the International #DayoftheGirl, I hope you’ll support organizations at gofundme.com/girlsopportunityalliance dedicated to keeping girls around the world in school. Because when I see the determination of young women like Malala and Priya, it reminds me that our future really is as bright as our girls.”
In a Q&A published in Teen Vogue, a gratified Priya Mondol narrated the trajectory of her life that led her to this moment when she could speak to two most famous women the world. Michelle Obama asked, “Priya, I’d love to hear more about your own story. I know that you’ve faced barriers as you continue to pursue your education. What drives you to keep studying and learning? In response Mondol replied saying, “I grew up in Kolkata in India, and my family struggled to get by. My mother passed away when I was young, so I live with my older sister and brother now. I was afraid it wouldn’t be possible for me to finish school or to get my education. So many of my friends dropped out to get married and have children, but I have different dreams for myself. I learned about the Her Future Coalition [an organization supported by the Girls Opportunity Alliance], which gives girls like me scholarships and a safe place to learn. They have given me the support I need and they give me hope, too. I am really inspired by my teachers there. They tell us that those who have education also have respect. I want respect in my life. That’s why I am studying.”
In response, the First Lady said: “I am so inspired by that, Priya — and your determination and your perseverance as you chase your goals and your dreams is something to be proud of. And it’s so important to have support along the way—so make sure you lean on those teachers every chance you get. They can be a tremendous resource for you.”
The three also discussed the challenge posed by the pandemic to the education of underprivileged children at a time most schools are closed many are left without resources to avail distance learning.
Addressing the issue, Malala Yousafzai who created the Malala Fund to help other girls access the kind of education she got, said, “I think it’s important to recognize that the pandemic has only exacerbated many of the problems women and girls faced before this health crisis. Before COVID-19, 130 million girls [across all ages] were out of school, gender norms limited their ambitions and increased their exposure to sexual harassment and violence, and our economic and education systems too often worked against them. So, I am not looking for a return to the way things were. I want a renewed commitment to education. If we do that, the data shows that our economies will be more resilient and our public health will improve.”