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Susan Liang Headshot

Off the Street and Into Hope

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Life has an interesting way of surprising us when we least expect it. For me, everything fell apart and came back together in the most challenging, beautiful, and emotionally charged chapter of my life.

Growing up, my mother would always tell me how fortunate I was when I didn't listen to her or when I was giving her a hard time as a teenager. I wrote it off. When I was 17 years old, I came home late one night. She called me into her bedroom, lit only by the moonlight shining through her window. She said, "I have something to tell you that I don't want anyone else to share with you besides me." My immediate reaction was that it must be a life threatening illness. The tone in her voice was something I had never heard before.

As soon as I registered the serious nature of our conversation, she looked straight into my eyes and said, "I'm not your mother. I bought you on the street when you were an infant." We both cried. Words seemed useless at that moment.

Days turned into weeks, months, then years as I slowly learned about my mother's past. As a young girl in China, her family abandoned her in the 1950's after the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan. They needed to prove they were coming back. She was their proof. The country was in turmoil. As a result, she was left without basic means or access to education. To say she struggled is an understatement. There were many times when she thought about taking her own life. She has shared more of her past in recent years, and I can only imagine how difficult it really was.

When she saw me on the street, memories came flooding back to her of countless years alone without a family to take care of her as a young girl and of all her lost opportunities. Her decision to take me in as her daughter allows me to be here today. I aspire to be just as courageous, determined, and kind as my mother. My soul is full of hope and fire to keep moving forward each day, to keep following my inner compass.

Today, the United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing worldwide. In 2012, the US population was approximately 313 million. Where did all the girls go? Gendercide, human trafficking, and child bride abductions are among some of the reasons they are missing. My mother and I are among the fortunate few that didn't end up as a statistic. Luckily, education can address this and more. The systemic problem is poverty. Two-thirds of the world's uneducated children are girls. At least 31 million girls are not in school. However, you can break cycles of poverty in just one generation. One extra year of education will increase a woman's future earnings by 15% vs. 10% for a man. When females are educated, economies grow, communities prosper, and poverty declines. It's a triple win! No wonder organizations such as Room to Read are devoted to educating children around the world.

Let's stop talking about making a difference in the world and actually do something. Each single act of kindness, no matter how small, can affect change, and these changes accumulate. The collective whole is a more powerful than you or I alone. It's why I took action.