Rachel’s story: Finding a powerful platform in advocacy
The day that Rachel Azanleko-Akouete’s letter-to-the-editor was published in her local newspaper, she forwarded the link to her congressman’s office. While she had developed a good rapport with him and his staff during meetings on Capitol Hill a few months earlier, he still hadn’t done what she and other RESULTS volunteers were asking: sign on to a resolution in support of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
But as soon as Rachel’s letter was printed, her congressman, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), signed on. Not long after that, he thanked her in a tweet, even quoting from a RESULTS blog post she had just written about her experience growing up in West Africa and why GPE is so important:
“‘It is OK to fail, but it is never OK to give up.’ Thank you, @rachel_azanleko, a local RESULTS REAL Change Fellow for taking the time to share your story, and underscore the importance of H. Res. 466, the Global Partnership for Education.”
Not only had Rep. Pocan signed on to the GPE resolution and publicly thanked her on Twitter, but he also happened to highlight the one phrase that had guided her and pushed her to keep going throughout her life: It’s OK to fail, but it’s never OK to give up.
That’s what her father had always said when Rachel was growing up in Togo, West Africa and later when the family immigrated to the United States when she was a teen. She should always keep trying, keep striving – education was the best way forward.
Rachel understood from an early age that lots of kids in Togo and other low-income countries were out of school because their parents couldn’t afford the fees. She knew that her own parents were forced to stop going to school for that same reason. It was unjust, unfair, wrong. Why should certain kids have the opportunity to get an education, but not others?
As a RESULTS advocate and REAL Change Organizing and Advocacy Fellow, Rachel is working to make sure every kid, no matter where they live, has a chance to get the education they deserve. That’s why the RESULTS campaign to support GPE — and its ambitious plan to get 25 million more kids into school – had such special resonance for her.
“This campaign was so important to me because of my story and my parents’ story,” she said. “Education is so dear to my parents. They wanted to make sure that all of us children had a chance to reach our full potential in life.”
While Rachel’s father eventually built a successful construction business in Togo — allowing her and her siblings to get an education both in their home country and in the United States – her parents still deeply regret not being able to finish their own schooling. Rachel’s education was an absolute priority, and she is now a nurse working towards a master’s degree in public health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Despite being busy with work and school, Rachel yearned for a platform to talk about (and act on) the issues that matter most to her. That’s when she found RESULTS. She applied for the REAL Change Fellowship, was accepted, and flew to Washington for the 2017 RESULTS International Conference. From the moment she arrived, she felt like she had finally found what she’d been looking for.
“I felt like I was in the right place,” Rachel said. “It was powerful.”
It was also her first time on Capitol Hill meeting with her members of Congress. She realized that as a constituent, her thoughts on policy – about health, education, economic opportunity — mattered. She was going to start speaking up whenever she could.
“I returned to Madison with a lot of motivation to be a very strong RESULTS advocate,” she said.
After working on the GPE campaign for the last half of 2017 – calls, letters, tweets, meetings – Rachel was paying close attention as GPE held its financing conference in Dakar, Senegal. She was thrilled to learn that world leaders gathered there made the biggest ever global commitment to fund education.
While the U.S. showed up and voiced its support, it didn’t make any new financial commitments that day. This was disappointing, but Rachel and her fellow RESULTS advocates still ultimately helped to secure an increase in the U.S. investment in GPE, and they plan to keep fighting in the years ahead to increase funding even further. How? Because final funding decisions fall to Congress. That’s why building relationships with lawmakers is so important, Rachel said.
Rep. Pocan has gotten to know Rachel and her fellow advocates at RESULTS. When she needs his support again, she knows he will listen.
Isn’t that what advocacy is all about?
This piece originally appeared in the 2017 RESULTS Annual Report.