Wherever you go around the world, you will find young girls with big dreams. Girls like Fatima, who dreams of being a scientist, so that her name can live forever through her experiments. Girls like Simrah, who dreams of being an Olympic swimmer, because training as an athlete has taught her that "the only way for me is forward." Girls like Areeba, who dreams of becoming a diplomat, saying "If we believe in ourselves, everyone will believe in us."
Girls whose dreams -- and determination to pursue them -- reveal tremendous courage and resolve, in a world where seeking something better for themselves can literally put their lives at risk. Just as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has inspired us all with her fortitude, there are girls in cities, towns, and rural villages around the globe who are fighting for their own dangerous dreams. The dream of getting an education. The dream of marrying when they choose. The dream of controlling their bodies and their lives. The dream of becoming everything they know that they can be -- no matter the obstacles or risk.
These are the girls -- and these are the dreams -- we celebrate on The International Day of the Girl, October 11, 2014. If we help more girls to realize their dreams, the impact will be transformative. When girls are empowered with education, health, and justice, they can drive extraordinary progress, raising up their communities and making the future brighter for us all.
One of the most inspiring examples I know is 27-year old Humaira Bachal, who, like Malala, has been a leader for girls' education since she was a girl herself. Humaira grew up in a desperately poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Karachi in Pakistan. Even though her own father resisted her schooling, Humaira believed that education was the key to a better life -- and, crucially, her mother did too. At the age of 12, Humaira and a few of her friends started teaching other neighborhood children -- first out of her own home, and, as more and more students started attending, in space she rented as two makeshift classrooms, paid for out of her own pocket.
Humaira was tireless in challenging long-established cultural practices, exhorting mothers not to pass on to their daughters the illiteracy, early marriage, and other injustices that they themselves had endured; and urging fathers to permit all their children to receive the education that is their birthright. By June 2013, she and her colleagues were educating roughly 1,200 girls and boys, and graduates of the program were taking the model to other communities as well.
It was an incredible success story -- but Humaira's dreams were only getting bigger. She envisioned creating a modern school, complete with playground, library, and computers -- a place where local girls and boys could start to see the world beyond their horizon.
At last summer's Sound of Change Live concert event, we shared Humaira's story with the world, with a screening of "Humaira the Dreamcatcher" by Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Madonna stepped forward with a major donation and challenged the Chime community to join her, which we made possible through crowdfunding technologies, using the power of social media for social change. Thanks to the overwhelming response, Humaira's Dream School was completed this summer. It has gone from a dream to a dream come true, and, in Humaira's words, the building itself "stands as a very visible symbol of what a girl can achieve."
Humaira's Dream School is tangible proof that each of us can make a difference. But dreaming alone is not enough; we also have to act. Every one of us has a voice. Every one of us can make a contribution. You can find a place to participate, to speak out, to be a part of something bigger than yourself. We are defined by our actions. And those actions add up -- one person, one step, one dollar, one euro, one peso, one rial at a time -- as solitary voices become a movement of many, too powerful to ignore.
But we must not wait. Because it isn't just about what we gain when we empower girls. It's also about how much society loses when we don't. How can Nigeria ever reach its full potential when schoolgirls, kidnapped in the dark of night, are still missing, more than five months later? How can Syria ever hope to rebuild itself when so many displaced women and girls are being brutalized and scarred by sexual violence, domestic abuse, and early marriage? How can any country secure lasting prosperity if it neglects or, worse, deliberately restrains the abilities of half its people? And how can any of us feel good about a world where girls face these kinds of injustices?
The students at Humaira's school have a prayer: "May my life be as bright as a burning candle." On this International Day of the Girl, let us shelter and support young girls' dreams, and help those millions of tiny flames become a sun that lights the sky.
Salma Hayek Pinault is a Board Member of the Kering Corporate Foundation and Co-Founder of CHIME FOR CHANGE. She will be in conversation with Mariane Pearl at the 2014 Deauville Women's Forum on October 15, 2014.