Recently, a friend and supporter of #GIRLWITHABOOK reminded me that although National Geographic is known for spectacular nature and wildlife photography, its most famous image is a portrait of a 12-year-old Afghan refugee girl named Sharbat Gula. Her photograph was taken at a refugee camp at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The photographer was Steve McCurry and he found her sitting in a tent, which served as a girls’ school.
Like millions of people, this portrait captured my heart almost the moment I first saw it. And now every time I look at it, I think of the mere 12% literacy rate for girls in Pakistan, I think of the 200,000 women in South Africa who are victims of violence every year, I think of the countless women in the US who are raped on college campuses.
This photograph reminds of girls and women who are denied their rights to this day. But it also reminds me of their courage and determination to be more than a statistic.
For those who have been following this blog for awhile, you know all about the #GIRLWITHABOOK project that Olivia and I started two years ago. And now I have some updates regarding that. Last month, we applied for a National Geographic contest called Expedition Granted for the chance to win $50,000 to go and do any sort of project that we have always dreamed of.
Our expedition idea: Take #GIRLWITHABOOK to 12 countries in 12 months in order to highlight different individuals and organizations who are doing incredible work for girls’ education. This would mean filming interviews, taking photographs, and keeping our supporters updated through our social media channels on what we discover on the status of girls’ and women’s rights in those countries.
Our tentative list of countries includes: Egypt, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, and Yemen.
Here’s the exciting part. National Geographic picked our project as a finalist out of approximately 700 projects! And now it’s up to us to get as many votes as we can.
So since today is the last day to vote, I thought I would lay out some facts as to why #GIRLWITHABOOK, and ultimately girls’ education, matters.
It’s been thirty years since the portrait of Sharbat Gula was published in National Geographic’s June 1984 issue, and today there are 32 million girls who cannot even attend schools set up in tents. This is why education matters for girls and women. This is why I want our expedition to become a reality. This is why I’m still doing this project, two years after a terrorist tried to kill Malala Yousafzai. This is why #GIRLWITHABOOK matters.