Girls can be Presidents-It begins with an Education

Senator Kamala Harris, D-CA, today, announced that she would be running for a chance to be elected as the 46th President of the United States of America, in 2020. In announcing her bid, she joined three other women, who have declared their candidacies; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

US Senator Kamala Harris with Riziki-Upcoming scientist — She too, can be anything she wants to be in the future
Senator Kamala Harris with Nancy Mwirotsi-Founder, Pi515 -An initiative that empowers refugee and underserved youth through teaching technology skills and fostering supportive learning environments focused on innovation and critical thinking.

Of course, if any of these women succeed, they will not be the first female president ever in the world. Ethiopia, recently appointed its first ever woman President. And in 2015, there were 12 female heads of government and 11 female heads of state. For each of them, education, persistence and the belief that girls can be anything they dream of becoming was crucial for setting them on the path that led them to their high-powered role.

So, as I cheer the four democratic party women contenders including Senator Kamala and Elizabeth Warren, who have begun their journey into being elected as first ever, female President of the United States of America, their journey, their persistence, and their belief, that they can in a year set history, reminded me that the journey to attain one’s dreams, especially girls’ dreams, must begin with the foundation of a strong education. Not only can it help open up more ways for girls to one day achieve their dreams and goals, but an education is also good for the economy. Each additional year that a girl attends school can increase her earning power by 10 to 20 percent.

But at the moment, more than 62 million girls around the world are deprived of an education and a chance to develop their potential to become future Presidents, lawyers, scientists, and doctors. Two of the many barriers that may prevent them from getting an education include not having the fees to pay for it and cultural beliefs that girls are less worthy of an education than boys.

I can relate to these obstacles.

I grew up in a rural poor farming community along the Kenyan coast. Education for girls was considered unimportant. At the same time, there were no societal role models to inspire and encourage me and other girls to reach for the stars. My parents, who were teachers, struggled to raise enough money to pay for our school fees. Because of the meager salaries paid to teachers, my parents had to sacrifice almost everything to keep us in school.

My parents would collect their pay checks, but eat nothing before coming back in the evening, hungry and tired. I wondered at their ability to be in town, in the midst of all the best foods, with money to purchase that food, but choosing not to spend it on themselves so that we could go to school. The determination from my parents and family had a powerful effect on me. It inspired me to pursue my academic career goals and persevere against challenges however daunting they seemed.

Despite the hurdles, I believed that education was the most important key for liberation and therefore I studied hard so that one day I could rescue my family and community from poverty and be a role model to many young African girls in similar situations.

I went through high school and eventually college and attained a Bachelor and Masters of Science at Kenyatta University. On a beautiful summer day of August, 6, 2011, I attained what at times seemed to be an elusive dream: a doctorate degree in Entomology from Auburn University. I became the first woman in my community to obtain a PhD degree. My parents, who could not attend my graduation sent me the most beautiful letter expressing their love and pride. In part they wrote, “To us all, this is historical.”

On my graduation day, as I walked to get my degree, I began to cry. My thoughts meandered back to my community in Kenya. I thought of the many girls in my community who had the potential to be a scientist like me or even a President, but simply lacked the opportunity. It was during that day that I told myself that I would do whatever it would take to give girls more opportunities so that they can break the poverty barrier, get an education and achieve greatness.

Since then, I have dedicated all of my passion, efforts, heart, and resources to bringing sustainable change in my community and I have paved the way for many girls in my community though education.

In early 2012, using what limited resources we could pull together, my parents and I decided to start a school. The Dr. Ndumi Faulu Academy opened its doors to 14 children in January of 2012.

It was a wonderful moment even if they studied in a mud classroom. Today the school, Faulu Academy, has over 100 students and girls make up half of the students. The school also has a library .

Our school is empowering girls and giving them the right foundation that they will need. Our goal is to build Africa’s future Harvard and empower as many girls so that they too can break the ceiling and become Presidents, lawyers, accountants and scientists.

Every girl, no matter where she comes from, should have the right to believe she can be President and she should be given the educational opportunities she needs to take her there. After all, education empowers, education liberates. And education gives girls the power to launch into a brighter future.

Esther Ngumbi is an Assistant Professor in Entomology and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign