Michelle Obama to Girls Everywhere: "I Am Them and They Are Me"
A month ahead of the one-year anniversary of Let Girls Learn—the initiative launched last March by the Obama administration to address the barriers that keep 62 million girls around the world out of school—First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday reflected on the organization's success, but noted that the movement, focused on areas of conflict and crisis, still has work to do.
"This is about all of our lives," Obama said during a panel at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York, where she was joined on stage by actors Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore. "Girls who are educated, they make more money, they raise healthier families... It is not just good for this country, we will have more people around the world making an impact on the global economy."
Raising global awareness is a major component of breaking down girls' barriers to education, according to Let Girls Learn. In September 2015, the organization launched the social media campaign #62milliongirls, which trended No. 1 domestically and No. 3 globally, and garnered the support of corporate sponsors like Land's End and Alex and Ani, as well as celebrities like Beyoncé, Bono, and Usher. "When you are a celebrity or the First Lady, you seem untouchable," Obama said. "These girls look at you and think, 'there is no way I can be like her.' I want them to know I am them and they are me. This is why it is important to connect with these kids, so they can see themselves in me and then they can push that impossibility out of their heads."
But efforts don't end there. Organizers say another big part of the solution is community-led efforts on the ground in places like Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central America. That is where the Peace Corp. comes in, which is now training its members on the issues of gender and girls' education. With the aid of individual and corporate donations, the Peace Corp. currently is funding roughly 100 community-specific projects, with an additional 120 in the pipeline. "These projects can be anything from building libraries to latrines in schools, to helping principles and teachers create schools that are safe for girls, to creating camps to strengthen leadership and build self-confidence among adolescent girls," Carrie Hessler-Radelet, director of the Peace Corps., said during a recent call.
You too, can be part of the solution by donating here (100 percent will go to directly support the initiatives of Let Girls Learn), or by downloading a Let Girls Learn toolkit (PDF), which is designed for individual clubs or classrooms to use to take action.
You're guaranteed to be in good company: While the First Lady's exact role in the initiative after vacating office in January 2017 remains to be seen, her chief of staff, Tina Tchen, recently said Obama "plans on being an advocate for these girls without a voice for the rest of her life."
—With reporting by Angela Matusik