#DayOfTheGirl – Why I can never stop being an Opinionated Woman!

580799_10151073901401363_175995219_nIn light of International Day of The Girl, I thought I would sidetrack from my NSLF Reflections to share a short opinion piece on #education #womenempowerment #socialjustice.

Throughout the entirety of my schooling life, I was told on countless occasions that I talked too much (surprise surprise). I was called cheeky, aggressive, rude, and wait for it, “fiapoko”, because God forbid a young Samoan woman vocalises an opposing opinion. With every question I asked, challenge I posed, and suggestion I offered, I was often met with an eye-roll and sigh. I didn’t think much of it, in fact – I often thought everyone else just lacked the balls to do so, and because of that it didn’t bother me much at all. What they actually meant to call me was opinionated.

Sharing a hug with my beautiful mother at graduation. “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” —Abraham Lincoln

Fast forward to educated, employed, loved and loving Mary – I’ve come to realise that these labels didn’t bother me because I had that mum who came to my 3rd grade class for the sole purpose of calling out Miss Coleman (soz girl) for tearing up my artwork because I was talking, I vividly remember her saying, “How’s my daughter meant to learn if she doesn’t talk?!”. Yup! That is the type of woman I have as a role model.

The rock and heart of our family. Grandma Gafa Telesia Ponifasio Ah Tani ❤

Two years ago I was asked by a friend whether I “mentor” because I feel sorry for my students. Stunned by the question, I reflected and thought to myself, who am I to feel sorry for these young people. I could have easily been in their shoes if it had not been for a series of fortunate events that lead my parents to take a different path from many in their own generation; a path which their children are now reaping the fruits of. I was extremely fortunate to have positive role models within my reach throughout my life. This is what I now know to have been a blessing that many young people unfortunately didn’t and don’t have – Parents who kept mine and my brothers education as their priority in life, parents who would spend money that we often didn’t have to pay for extra tutoring, parents that I could run to when I felt that something was not just,  parents who constantly told me that all they wanted was for me to realize my own potential, parents who took an active interest in my friends and the people that I would socialize with.

Parents who were and are my mentors.

The two men who have empowered, enabled, and uplifted me all my life. Dad & Big Brother.

My point is I had people who championed me right throughout my education. This is not the case for #62milliongirls around the world who are denied the chance to have an education. Almost 60% of the world’s 115 million illiterate youth are women. A mother who it literate is more likely to be able to protect her children from HIV/AIDS, chronic illnesses, and from dying young which means access and opportunities to quality education is literally a matter of life and death! Education is the best possible weapon we can keep in our arsenal to fight poverty, injustice, inequality, and violence!

As someone who has been so unbelievably blessed to receive the education that I’ve received, and done reasonably well in the areas that I have, it’s my obligation first and foremost as a follower Christ, as a woman, as a Samoan, and as young person who has been enabled and empowered to make a difference, to do so. As we succeed, achieve, and excel, we’re obliged to take with us as many people in our communities as we can!  It is only logical that we reach out, empower and enable others to access quality education.

Educational inequality is everybody’s problem. Regardless of whether you are a man, woman, girl, or boy, we all live in the same world! A world that is in desperate need of strong, compassionate, and educated men AND women!

Education empowered me to be ambitious, to be brave, to uplift, to respect, to love, and to serve!

More than 60 years ago my grandparents envisioned a future for their children, and their children’s children, where they could learn, live, and love freely! 60 years on, their grandchildren are now reaping the fruits of their vision and courage to dream! This is why I can never stop being an Opinionated Samoan Woman.

My dad’s best piece of advice for his very opinionated daughter, “aua le palaai!” (Be bold! Be gutsy!).

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.

Don’t be scared. There’s no need to be.