Congress, be the America that stands up for what’s right

June 19, 2017
by Rackel Nderi

When I was eight, I came home from school one day and found my bags had been packed. Before I knew it, I was on a plane that would take me from Kenya, my home, halfway across the world to the United States. I left everything – and almost everyone – that had I ever known.

Why the drastic move? The answer is simple: education. I immigrated to America because my mother knew it was where I could achieve all my dreams. Even though I was young, she believed in my potential. She wanted to give me the American dream. She wanted me to have more than she did.

At first, my entire world was flipped upside down. I lost confidence in myself because I did not fit in. Imagine an eight-year-old girl, who was already tall for her age, with dark skin and an especially thick accent, moving to a mostly white suburb. I was an easy target.

But through it all, education was a constant. I could always count on the fact that if I worked hard and performed well, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve and no one I couldn’t be. Today, I’m about to graduate from Penn State with a degree in healthy policy and administration. I already have a job lined up after graduation. I’m lucky that I had a support system that afforded me the invaluable opportunity to learn and go after all my dreams.

But many children don’t have this privilege. In fact, a staggering 61 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 are out of school across the globe. In addition, there are 250 million children who cannot read a single sentence. In Kenya, many children in the third grade cannot read English or Kiswahili, the national language. That’s why it’s incomprehensible to me that the White House has proposed to drastically reduce funding for critical global development programs. This funding supports so many valuable initiatives – from making sure that the world’s most vulnerable children aren’t dying of preventable diseases to ensuring they have access to a quality education.

I know firsthand how education can transform a child’s life and provide a path to a successful future. If anything, we should be expanding and strengthening the programs that are already helping millions of kids.

For example, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has worked with partner countries to enroll 64 million children in primary school since 2002. Now, GPE is launching an ambitious new plan to get millions more children into school, train nearly two million teachers, and build thousands of new classrooms. For this plan to succeed, governments around the world – especially the United States — need to step up their commitments, not retreat.

We all know that education doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it can also be a powerful antidote to poverty, disease, and extremism. Giving a child an education is not only an investment in their future, it’s an investment in all of our futures. It’s an investment in a more peaceful, stable world. I had to leave my home country to get a good education. That shouldn’t become the norm.

More than that, it’s painful to think of the needless suffering these cuts could cause if they are allowed through. Education programs could be decimated, along with programs that help kids get enough nutritious food to eat and medical treatment for deadly diseases like tuberculosis. These programs may be a tiny line-item in massive U.S. budget, but for millions of people around the world, they are literally the difference between life and death.

Congress, if you’re listening, please do the right thing. Be leaders in the fight against global poverty, as you’ve been for so many years. Be the America that welcomed me as a frightened child, and gave me the education that has transformed my life today. Be the America that stands up for what’s right and gives everyone a chance to work hard and succeed.

Rackel Nderi is a REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellow with RESULTS.

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