Occasionally, not often, but on occasion, I have been asked why I am working on behalf of girls in Africa when we have so many children in need in our own back yard. And I suspect my counterparts, who are based in other cities are sometimes asked this question too. Our organization -- the Girls Education Collaborative -- is based in Buffalo, New York, the third poorest city in the USA. Our current work is in northern Tanzania in Kitenga Village. Those that ask that question are not wrong - there are many children with many needs right here at home. Am I, in fact, turning my back on my own?
No, not at all, and we will only limit ourselves as individuals, communities and cities if we continue to think that way.
What I am doing is walking through to spaces from which we are no longer separated. Perhaps until recently these spaces were on the 'other side' of our proverbial fence. But look hard -- are those boundaries still there?
International commerce, technology, social media, the rise of the global citizen have worked in hand, and, as they have risen time-honored boundaries have fallen. 'Global Village' is not a trite phase. The global village is our world today -- a world that may make the older generations a bit squeamish and protective but a world that from what I observe, is pretty much the norm for upcoming generations.
What I know that the people who ask me this question don't know, is that the space I have turned towards has profound needs yet few advocates. And even fewer resources. What I know that they don't know, is that fueling the dismantling of generational poverty -- even if it is happening on the shores of another continent -- will lift the whole world.
So how does Malala, whom Gordon Brown called the "most courageous girl in the world" come into play when I am asked why I am working in Africa and not at home? Because Malala -- her resistance to death, her defiance of the Taliban, her bigger, louder and provocative voice -- has inspired millions, literally millions, to echo her call: Education for all children. Everywhere. Now.
Her 'voice' has gotten so loud that even folks in Buffalo are hearing what she has to say. They are hearing, for perhaps the first time, just how broad and deep and real the barriers are between millions of children and a school, especially a quality school, especially for girls. Now Buffalo may traditionally be a provincial town, but it is also a town proud to be known as the City of Good Neighbors. We have a long history of reaching back and caring for our own complex 'backyard.'
What is the Malala Effect? It is when a deep-rooted city begins to enter the space of dissolved boundaries and peer out beyond its long-standing hedges. It is when a City of Good Neighbors starts to become the City of Good Global Neighbors. And from there the whole world begins to lift. I think these days I am being asked less "Why are you working in Africa" and being asked more "How can I help?" It's the Malala Effect.