My mom was born in a rural, southern town in Andhra Pradesh, India. Her father worked two jobs so as to meet their daily needs. Her mom was a housewife, as women were not encouraged to work outside of the home. From a very young age, my mom had understood that she wanted to better her life. Later she would realize that the best way to do so would be through education.
Instead of a porcelain piggy bank most American kids have, my mom and her friends made small pots out of clay to store the coins they saved. While her friends would buy candy for themselves with their money, my mom would save up her own coins to buy a novel from a small bookstore.
My mom later told me, "I knew I would get to read another book when that piggy bank filled up. Those great books gave me the hope that life could be better, like it was in those stories."
A gifted student, she was able to gain enrollment in her town's convent school with a scholarship. Her parents understood that an education meant a chance for a better life for their daughter. Before and after school, as a seventh grader herself, she would tutor young students whose parents wanted them to be as dedicated towards their schoolwork as my mother was. Due to the fact that they couldn't afford a rickshaw or auto daily, my mom would often walk over three miles to get to school.
Though she was ridiculed in school because of her family's tough financial conditions, my mom soon became the best student in her class, a role model for her peers, and a breadwinner for her family, by tutoring kids in elementary school. Even after she got married at 18, she continued going to college while balancing her duties as the eldest daughter-in-law in her new family.
After I was born, my mother and father decided that they wanted the best education for me. Thus, my family immigrated to the U.S. where I have strived to make my mom's dreams for me come true. My mom's education has helped her find success today as a businesswoman and housewife. And she has made sure my brother and I understand the crucial importance of making the most of our own schooling.
However, my mom still remembers those girls who were not as fortunate as her to get an education in their lives. She still regrets: "Barefooted girls sold cheap trinkets by my school while I sat in class. I wish I could have done something to help them."
I have been able to fulfill that desire of my mother's as a Teen Advisor for to the United Nations Foundation campaign Girl Up, a "for girls, by girls" movement that mobilizes girls to raise funds and awareness for programs that benefit the hardest to reach adolescent girls.
I've learned that there are more than 140 million school-aged children that are not in school and more than half are girls. For girls in developing nations who spend hours every day performing chores instead of being in school, an opportunity for schooling can mean a healthier and safer life. Educated girls are more likely to resist abuse and violence and an early marriage.
Alongside the UN, more than 300,000 Girl Up supporters are raising funds to make sure girls in Liberia, Malawi, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, receive the resources they need to make education a priority in their lives.
Whether it's hosting a Girl Rising screening at my local movie theater or leading a penny drive in school, I've taken my first steps to raise awareness for girls' education. Thus, I'm making sure my mom's sacrifices for me didn't go to waste. But I know I can't do this alone. I need your help in making sure every girl has a chance for a better life. Because it's true: "We are strong, but together we are stronger."
Learn more about Girl Up's efforts by visiting www.girlup.org and help make a change today!