What is the International Day of Education?
The United Nations General Assembly has declared that January 24th is the International Day of Education. It is meant to draw attention to the importance of education as a key step in achieving peace, development, and equity across the globe.
On the UNESCO site
Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth, and adults behind.
Today, 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.
Although these numbers may seem insurmountable, the United Nations has shared them in order to let the global population know the level of need, that there is a long road ahead to rectify this inequity, and that there is plenty of opportunity for people to do good in the world.
What can people do?
Although the numbers given by the United Nations are extremely high, it is good to know that there are many global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are doing what they can to make education more readily available by a variety of means. An example of this can be seen with Mary’s Meals, an NGO which recognizes that food scarcity is intrinsically linked to access to education. To rectify both, Mary’s Meals takes a straightforward approach to the problem. On their website they state:
We are a no-frills charity with a simple idea that works: by providing one good meal in a place of learning, children are drawn into the classroom where they can receive an education that could one day free them from poverty.
By breaking the cycle of poverty, these communities are then put into a position to become self-sustaining and change the trajectory of their homeland. Currently Mary’s Meals serves in 19 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Carribean.
To learn more about Mary’s Meals check out some of Salt + Light Media’s past interviews. You can hear Deacon Pedro’s interview
with the founder and CEO of Mary’s Meals, Magnus MacFarlene-Barrow on the SLHour,
or watch the episode of In All Things
that features the executive director of Mary’s Meals Canada, Sheri McConnell.
Not every person will start an NGO or work for one. The next best thing lay Catholics can do is research and find a reputable NGO you like and donate. Pope Francis has said that Christians are all called to serve, and in this instance, donating is tantamount to providing service in far off places you might otherwise not get to. And by helping further the education of others, Catholics are able to extend the rich tradition of education and intellectual rigour, two hallmarks of the faith.
What about at home?
Although Christians are called to serve, not everyone will set their sights abroad. Some may want to serve closer to home but are unsure what that would look like. There are many local community organizations servicing low-income areas that can use added support. Seek them out, but approach them with an open mind, heart, and spirit with the words of Mathew 7:7 in mind: “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
When you seek them out do not arrive with an answer, but rather arrive with the question: How can I help? Some organizations may need an expertise you can offer, some may need help promoting the work they do, some might be in need of money. The response they give may extend to more difficult concepts like justice and equity issues particular and specific to the given community. But you will never know the answer unless you put yourself in a position to find out. When engaging in this type of work something to ask yourself is: Am I prepared for what their answer might be? To help prime your mind and heart to receive unexpected answers, take the time to pray, listen earnestly, and discern how you can best respond to their request.
Remember, even though the International Day of Education reveals great inequity in the world, it is also a sobering reminder that there are many people out there to be helped, that there is a lot of opportunity to do good in the world, and that Catholics have been entrusted with the sacred mission of service.
Be sure to look for the full listing of the 2021 International Day of Education
events being run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).