Dreams From My Grandmother

By Olivia Curl, #GIRLWITHABOOK co-founder

This post is part of #GIRLWITHABOOK’s Expedition Granted Series. Please vote for our expedition proposal every day through 9/29 and spread the word! When you vote you’re standing up for girls and education world-wide. 

Vote Here: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/girlwithabook/

Sometimes I wonder why I feel so strongly about advocating for girls’ education. I know the statistics backwards and forwards. I can recite horrific data on child marriage, literacy rates, primary school enrollment broken down by gender, in my sleep. But as much as I’m a numbers nerd, data doesn’t make people “tick.”

I don’t have to look far for my inspiration, for I come from a line of female education fighters.

My grandmother Rose was born in 1934 on a tiny island, the most western point of Europe. She was the 14th child born to her 42 year old mother and 70-something year old father, though the 12th and 13th children both died in infancy. Both were also named Rose. When he went to get her baptized in the neighboring town, my great-grandfather had forgotten to ask my great-grandmother what to name my grandmother. Not wanting to walk all the way home, he had her baptized Rose, just as the other two babies before her, hoping that she too would “go to be with God” instead of growing up poor on the island. That’s the nice way of putting it. But my grandmother is a fighter and she was there to stay.

We are from an island called Flores, flowers in Portuguese. A rural island, then neglected by a dictatorial government, with little to no opportunity to move up in life without leaving the island. My grandma lost her dad at 3 months, her mother just before her 13th birthday. She didn’t own a pair of shoes until she was 10, but she dreamed of going to college. She would pour over catalogues showing the prestigious Coimbra University with their students milling about campus, wearing the traditional capes. My grandma dreamed of getting to wear that cape. She dreamed of college.

She completed the 5th grade, dreaming to continue on, but was unable to.

At 16 she married my grandfather, at 17 she immigrated to the US.

She lied about her age to get a job. Taught herself English by listening to the radio.

She lied about her age again to attend high school, but after a few magical years of learning (and joining the basketball and trampoline teams), she was pregnant with my uncle at the age of 22 and left school.

My mom was born when she was 26, and at the age of 30 my grandma was widowed when a log-mill accident killed my grandfather.

My grandmother went on to single-handedly put both of her kids through college, my uncle through law school too.

I’ve heard of nothing more from my grandmother than the importance of getting an education. She wasn’t able to get the degrees she dreamed of, but she transferred those dreams into her children and grandchildren. Thanks to my grandma, my mom and uncle were the first in our extended family (36 cousins in their generation alone) to graduate from college. In May of this year, I was her first grandchild to graduate from college. She always tells me that in my dreams for learning and travel I’m “doing exactly what [she] would be doing if [she] was my age.”

Olivia and her grandmother Rose, May 2014

Olivia and her grandmother Rose, May 2014

I’m thankful to have had such a strong woman advocating for my education in my corner, and I feel compelled to continue to direct that energy towards other girls who need someone rooting for them in their corner. This blog is a method of that encouragement, but it’s also a wake up call, a gentle but persistent nudge to those who had someone in their corner, to keep learning, to keep questioning, to keep working towards a world where all girls claim education as their right.

If you share in this hope of a world where education access is taken for granted by all, please vote daily for #GIRLWITHABOOK’s expedition proposal in National Geographic’s Expedition Granted competition. When you vote, you stand up for girls and education world-wide.

 

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