Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who runs the world? GIRLS.

Today, I want to tell you a very personal story, one I haven't shared with many but that I've told myself a lot before falling asleep at night. It's not a story just about me - it's about me, my mother, and her mother before her, and a million other women like them.

I grew up the daughter of a poor mother. Well, she wasn't poor by the time I was born. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My mom was born in El Salvador, the youngest child of a sometimes-single mother. Her father was in an out of the picture, sometimes a wonderful and supportive man, and sometimes a man who took the money they had for food and spent it on alcohol. Sometimes, they didn't eat at night. Or all day.

But, they had a house to live in, and clothes to wear. Her mother, my grandmother, insisted that her daughters get an education, a good one, even though she herself had never made it past middle school. Their life was hard, but they worked hard to make up for it.

Throughout the 1970s, a civil war was building in El Salvador. My mom has told me once that as tensions escalated her friends disappeared from school. There one day, gone the next, sometimes never heard from again. Often, she suspected they were being kidnapped and forced to fight in one of the various gangs that was trying to gain control of the country.

Her mother sensed that it wasn't safe for my mom and her sister to continue living there. They escaped to the United States just in time.

Here, they tried to establish a living. Fortunately, they had family that they could stay with, and so my mother and her sister continued going to high school in California, and they worked hard after school to make rent and to put food on the table. They worked hard to learn English and to fit in. They wanted to be part of America, not just in it. When they graduated, my mom considered just getting a job to support her family. But her mother insisted - she would go to college.

What a wonderful thing for my grandmother to force her to do.

It took a long time, but my mom put herself through UCLA. She was one of very few women in her engineering program. She faced adversity - women didn't major in engineering yet. She was supposed to get her "MRS degree", marry rich (it was LA), and have a few kids. She didn't - she worked her ass off to finish her engineering degree while still mastering English and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to work for a few well-known companies, spending 20+ years helping make one the company it is today. Now she's a leader at a multinational corporation.

Today, she doesn't have to worry about putting food on the table. She doesn't have to worry about whether or not she'll be able to send her only child to school. Instead, my mother has a savings account and knows that whatever the world throws at her, she will be okay. She is stable, she is safe, and so is her whole family.

Pretty far from some very humble and worrisome beginnings, huh?

My mother is an amazing woman. She stood up for what she believed in - that she deserved an education and a chance as much as the boys - and earned everything that she got. And this is all because another woman invested in her - her mother.

So, thank you Abuela for the life I have today.

Throughout my life, my mother taught me that I was so, so fortunate to grow up the way I did because all this, all that, could have not worked out - she could have been forced to leave school in order to work, or to get married young, and to perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty. Instead, she was lucky because my grandmother was a smart woman and she ended up living a wonderful, successful, and healthy life.

Sometimes, this story makes me want to tear my hair out because, well, how the hell do I live up to that? When my mother fought tooth and nail to survive in this world but I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, how do I earn myself a place? How will I ever make my mother half as proud of me as I am of her? And then one day I realized how.

My mom taught me one other thing: That as someone on this side of the poverty line, the lucky side, it was my job to help pull other people across in any way I could. Her story reminds me that it only takes one believer to do this.

So, learn about the Girl Effect.  Learn how you can help one life, one family, even one village by investing in just one girl. I know first hand that it works because I am the result.

Interested in spreading awareness of this problem? Join the Girl Effect blogging movement. Write your own post about this from October 4-11. Here are the details

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  1. that's such a beautiful tribute to your mom! thanks for sharing!

  2. This is so cute. I love your family so much and your mother is honestly one of my role models!! I tell people about her all the time. You are the spitting image of her Valorie. You have so much of your mother in you.

    She is an inspiration to all women and to all believers in a better life >:)

    Te amo! Como madre, como hija<3

  3. Emily from GlobalGivingOctober 14, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring story! You so vividly described the benefits of investing in just one girl. Update for the Girl Effect: The Girl Effect GlobalGiving Challenge is starting tomorrow and we'd love for you to be a part of it in any way you can! you can find out more here :)


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