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In December 1948, leaders from around the world convened to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming every person's right to liberty, equality and justice under the law. The leaders boldly declared that everyone has the right to education and that education would "be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

I believe all people were born equal and free. I believe freedom involves access to opportunities that allow us to act and make decisions that will enable us to unlock our fullest potential. With freedom comes hope, achievement and the ability to define our outcomes and the outcomes of our communities. I believe each of us are born with the basic human right to learn and think freely in a safe and nurturing environment. I believe that regardless of our race, gender identification, sexual orientation, religion and social standing, no one has the power to take away the birthright of freedom.

I know, however, across the world there is systemic oppression and economic instability that creates barriers to this, and makes freedom elusive for many — particularly the most marginalized among us. Children in our world — girls, in particular — are denied the right to access information and basic education. Right now, nearly 60 million children of primary school age are not in school. They are unable to learn in a sheltered environment free of the challenges of weather disruptions. Teachers are denied adequate training, so they are unable to provide the competencies and skills children need to flourish. Currently, nearly 2.3 billion women and girls lack sufficient menstrual hygiene resources (UNICEF), and children lack clean water and bathroom facilities so their bodies can remain germ-free. The United Nations estimates 443 million school days are lost each year because of water-and-sanitation-related diseases (UNDP).

Today, basic, quality education in adequate environments remains an inaccessible right for millions of children around the world. Access to basic education should not be reserved for the world’s wealthiest countries — access to knowledge and learning belongs to every child in every community across this planet.

The global community continues to work hard to make basic education accessible to all. At Pencils of Promise (PoP), our teams in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos are building safe classroom structures. Since our founding in 2008, we have built more than 575 schools that have served more than 200,000 students across the world.

To date, we have trained 2,587 teachers and provided an increased level of support so they are prepared to enter a classroom and address the needs of the whole child. We provide education about and sustainable tools for menstrual hygiene to increase access to education for girls and boys. We have provided over 800 water filters, 1,660 bathroom facilities and hygienic education to nearly 23,000 children and their families so they do not succumb to easily preventable illnesses that keep them out of school.

This work is our collective responsibility.

The world’s children deserve to dream — they have a right to access knowledge and achieve their fullest potential. They deserve our promise to fulfill this right and continue the fight for health, racial, economic and education equity for all and, in turn, ensure their freedom. Only when we achieve collective freedom, will we truly transform. As we close out Universal Human Rights Month and this year, we must recommit to transforming a child, transforming communities and transforming the world.


Kailee Scales is CEO of Pencils of Promise, a non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.