Access to a quality education is the best way to disrupt the cycle of poverty. My story is proof.
Rachel Azalenko-Akouete, RESULTS Real Change Fellow
October 03, 2017
I can’t tell my story without first telling my parents story. My family is originally from Togo, a small country in West Africa. My father is my very first hero and my role model. My grandfather had 19 children. He was a farmer and tried his very best to provide for his family. Nevertheless, he couldn’t. So he had to send some of his children hundred miles away to work as paid house servants.
My father was only eight when he went to work as a servant in a wealthy family. His boss was nice enough to allow him to attend school, but only after he completed all of his chores. My father was very passionate about education. He would wake up every morning at 3 a.m. to fetch water, clean the courtyard, make breakfast for his boss’s children, and take them to school. Only then would he rush to class.
By the time my father arrived at school, he was so tired, he couldn’t help sleeping in class. A soon as the class was over, he ran quickly back home to start his chores again. He was the first person to wake up every morning and the last person to go to bed every night. He did not have any time to study, ended up failing his classes, and was forced to quit school. My father never completed elementary school and never got a chance to attend middle school, high school or college.
"My father always told us that without education, our generation had little or no chance to become successful."
My mother was raised in a large family as well. After my mother graduated from elementary school, my grandmother called her and informed her that she could no longer afford her education. My grandmother said my mother needed to quit school and help her sell goods at the market to ensure her two brothers and four sisters could continue to go to school and survive. My mother was devastated. Because my mother was so brilliant at school, her teachers offered to pay for her middle school education. However, my grandmother denied their offers because she could not afford to buy my mother school uniforms and school supplies, and most importantly, my mother was going to be helping her make money to take care of her siblings. My mother never got the opportunity to go to middle school, high school, or college.
None of my parents ever got a chance to just be a child, worry about the simple things that children should be worrying about, and receive a quality education. With time, my dad worked hard, put himself through an apprenticeship and eventually became an entrepreneur who owned his own construction agency.
My father made sure that all of his seven children went to school. I grew up in a middle-income household and was fortunate to have all I needed. Every school year, my father took us shopping for new shoes and school supplies, and my mother made sure that our school uniforms were made by our tailor to the style that we desired. I was very little, yet I was aware that many of the children in my neighborhood did not go to school because their parents could not afford to pay for their education. My father always told us that without education, our generation had little or no chance to become successful. Moreover, the number one rule of our house was: “It is OK to fail, but it is never OK to give up.” I heard those words over and over again until they became engraved in my heart, as words engraved in a stone.
"I met with my member of Congress, Mark Pocan, as part of the RESULTS International Conference this summer. I am so proud he is cosponsoring House Resolution 466 in support of GPE."
We came to the United States when I was 17-years-old. Because of the quality of the education that I received growing up, I was able to quickly integrate in the U.S. school system. I worked very hard, even harder than my peers because English was my third language. Because of my hard work and dedication, I attended college and received a Bachelor of Science’ Nursing at the University of Wisconsin. Right now, I am a Public Health Nurse and a Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Wisconsin. I am a passionate advocate for health and racial equity.
Now is the time to take action and to raise our voices in support of education. The Global Partnership for Education is the only international partnership dedicated exclusively to bringing a quality education to children living in the world’s poorest countries. GPE has reached over 72 million children since 2002, delivered 42 million textbooks in 2015 and 2016 alone, and helped build or restore 9,267 classrooms in 2016. We need to build political support to fully fund GPE during its upcoming Financing Conference in Senegal. GPE seeks to raise US$3.1 billion dollars for 2018-2020. I am asking the United States to pledge US$ 337.5 over three years. I met with my member of Congress, Mark Pocan, as part of the RESULTS International Conference this summer. I am so proud he is cosponsoring House Resolution 466 in support of GPE. The United States’ contribution will help send 870 million children to school. Children like me, who grow up and will use their education to build a better world.
My father still inspires me to be a go-getter, to set high goals and expectations for myself, to not only dream, but to dream big, because goals are reachable and dreams do come true. My mother taught me to remain humble despite all my successes in life. Without access to a quality primary education, and having parents who truly value education, I would not be who I am today. Every child should have that chance, and fully funding GPE is a critical step to making sure that they do.
Rachel serves as a REAL Change Fellow and Group Leader of RESULTS Madison. She is a Public Health Nurse, and a Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Wisconsin.