On Monday I am headed to Gatwick to join the tremendous chief executive of Plan UK, Marie Staunton, on a three day trip to Bangladesh (travelling out on Monday, with full days in Bangladesh on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and travelling back on Friday), to see in practice some of the work that Plan UK is doing with children in Dhaka and, further out from the capital, in Gazipur. At the beginning of this year, both at school and in my capacity of President of the Girls’ Schools Association, I adopted Plan UK as our international charity, but I never imagined at the time that I would have the opportunity to be able to see their work in action, and it is a huge honour and a privilege to be preparing to go out to see what they are doing on the ground.
Plan UK runs a powerful campaign ‘ Because I am a Girl ‘ which you should look up if you haven’t already come across it. 75 million girls in the world – 75 million! – are not in education, and their campaign seeks to do something about this. When girls and young women are educated, it has a demonstrable effect on their families, communities and nations, and those of us who are lucky enough to benefit from outstanding education systems have a responsibility to ensure access to school for those who do not. We all know what difference an education makes.
Part of what keeps girls out of education is a culture in which girls are married young, forced into early marriage, and Plan’s particular drive this year has been to end child marriage. ‘Take the Vow’ yourself; girls should be walking to school, not up the aisle. Bangladesh, unfortunately, is one of the top three countries in the world where child marriage is prevalent. Two thirds of girls are married before the legal age of 18 – a shocking figure – but work can be done to prevent this, by creating ‘child marriage free’ villages, and I will have the opportunity to understand how this has been achieved by listening to community representatives and local government representatives in Lakshmipur.
I will also be visiting a vocational training centre in Dhaka, a shelter home for girls, two schools and, I very much hope, the home of a child who my family and I will be sponsoring, and from whom we hope to learn. (It costs so little to sponsor a child and yet makes a huge difference to the child’s community, as the money is used to help the whole village – do look at this link.) There will be many people to meet, and so much to see and experience. Connections – and time! – permitting, I shall try to keep in touch over the week on Twitter (@drhelenwright); I shall certainly write about it on my return.
Reading my briefing notes on the projects I am due to visit, I am full of admiration for the work done by Plan UK. It makes me proud to be a human being, knowing how much we are doing to help others – the ‘good news’ stories that so often elude us. There is so much to be done, however, to help eliminate poverty and disease, and to provide opportunity for our fellow human beings. We all have such a lot to learn and gain from one another.