In the inspirational documentary Girl Rising, nine different girls from nine different countries share one dream; to go to school.
Each girl was paired with a writer from her country, to help tell her story. Then, the voices of celebrities like Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez, and Kerry Washington, bring these stories to life.
But the true stars are the girls, as they overcome adversity and pursue their education. As we learn in the film, "educating a girl is one of the highest returning investments in the developing world."
CNN International is airing the film this weekend. You don't want to miss it.
Magnetic and resilient Wadley lives in Haiti; her world decimated by the earthquake. Her mother has no money to send her to school. Knowing she hasn't paid her dues, she bravely takes a seat in a makeshift classroom, and tells her teacher "even if you send me away, I will come back every day, until I can stay."
Being a student improves the status, health, and safety of girls. Otherwise, they can end up enslaved, performing domestic work, raising children, or even lost to sex trafficking. The less educated the girl, the bleaker her future.
Finding comfort in song, Suma sings of her experiences in Nepal. Too poor to afford a daughter, her family "bonded" her at age of six. Even though kamlari, a form of slavery, was outlawed in 2000, it remains a prevalent reality. Suma was freed by a social worker, and now that she understands the law, she is pursuing justice for the many girls imprisoned all around her.
While sending girls to school is a human rights issue, many of the film's arguments are framed in health or economic policy. Others simply remind us what the alternative could be.
150 million girls have already experienced sexual violence, Half of them, like Yasmin, are under 15. In Egypt, with no access to school, she belongs to the streets. Just 13 years old, she is already a rape survivor. Yet she considers herself a super hero. And once you hear her story, so will you.
As mothers struggle to protect their daughters, marriage is considered a way to keep them safe. 13 girls are married every 30 seconds around the world. Azmera comes from Ethiopia, a country of "split girls." Her mother thought marriage would protect her from this fate. Her brother, knowing better, helped Azmera refuse the proposal of a much older man. Now she attends school. But others are not always so lucky.
Many cultures prioritize boys, when they are forced to choose between educating their daughters and sons. As a result, there are 33 million fewer girls in school than boys.
Yet, there are parents determined to give their daughters a chance. Ruksana, featured in the video above, is from India. She lives with her family in a tent city, far away from her village, so she can have an opportunity to learn-- and draw. If India increased the amount of girls in school by just one percent, the country's GDP would rise by billions.
Poverty is frequently the greatest obstacle standing in a girl's way. Senna comes from Peru.While she lives in a community of poor gold miners digging for other people's riches, she uses poetry to persevere. Mariana works for her school's radio station in Sierra Leone; the land of the blood diamond. In a war-torn country determined to rebuild, Mariana dreams of rising to stardom and hosting her own talk show.
However, some girls have no dreams left. Amina's heartbreaking story comes from Afghanistan. She is "a girl masked and muted," hidden beneath a burqa. In a notoriously patriarchal culture, she was considered "unworthy of record."
Married to a cousin at the age of 11, her dowry was used to buy her brother a used car, she describes her body as a resource. Shortly after her wedding, Amina became a mother. She survived, but the number one cause of death for girls ages 15 to 18 is childbirth.
While the film is unapologetically shot through a Western lens, and seemingly puts words in the mouths of the girls they follow, it's still an excellent place to start a necessary conversation. Palatable for all ages, it's an excellent way to introduce young people to global issues.
Girl Rising was created by 10x10, a global campaign for girls' education. They are spreading the message that educating girls can reduce poverty, child mortality, population growth and HIV infections, as well as curbing terrorism and corruption. One seemingly small act can have a huge and lasting impact. Sending a girl to school can increase the well-being of her family, her community, and her country.
Donations to the 10x10 fund are distributed to non-profit partners, including CARE USA, World Vision, United Nations Foundation/Girl Up, and several others working to improve the lives of girls.
If you'd like to watch the film in a theater, you can request a screening of Girl Rising where you live. Otherwise, you can see it on CNN International tomorrow, just before they release the follow-up documentary, A Girl's World, next week.