By Merritt Frey, Executive Director
This week Mali Rising Foundation is announcing the three top winners in our national Make the Case for Caring Essay Contest. We're counting down -- 3, 2, 1 -- starting today with our third place winner, Johanna Ziegler of Minarets High School in O'Neals, California.
This year's essay contest theme: Numerous challenges exist in countries like Mali, where many people live in extreme poverty – poor nutrition and health, food insecurity, lack of sanitation and clean water, violence and instability, low literacy rates, inadequate infrastructure, and more. Why should education be a priority given all of the competing needs in a country like Mali?
Johanna is 15 and in the 9th grade. She wrote a compelling essay about how investing in education is really about investing in the economy -- a strategy that helps address all kinds of problems.
“After I finished writing that 500th word, I had this moment where I was just in shock. Rereading my essay made me realize how much I cared about the repair of the world, especially through education. I hope whoever reads the three winning essays will have that same moment of shock and awe as I did and then join us in the pursuit to change the world.”
Read Johanna's full essay, A Vital Need, below:
A Vital Need, Johanna Ziegler
I sat in my classroom, twiddling with my pencil, disgusted at the tedious math problem I was told to solve. I was beginning to think school was just another government requirement that perhaps was ultimately useless. It was then I heard my teacher’s conversation with another student. He said something I never could forget. “You get paid to go to school.”
I furrowed my brow and listened more intently. My teacher explained that for every additional year you stick it out, the more money you’ll have the opportunity to make. Suddenly, my algebraic equation turned into a multitude of promising dollar signs. Of course, this incident was long forgotten until a year later when I learned about a place called Mali.
Like other Americans, I’d seen infomercials on how bad life was and how much a little bit of money could help. When I stumbled onto the Mali Rising Foundation, I mistook it to be like all the others, but then I read further. This foundation was different. After sifting through different articles, I realized I agreed with their standpoint: that sending money to improve living conditions is only the first step. To make progress permanent and secure it for years to come, education must be made prominent. When I saw this, I remembered what my math teacher had said about being paid to go to school.
Any basic economics course will teach you that a strong economy equals a strong country. When cash is flowing, when families are flourishing, the general health of the country boosts. Essentially, educating Mali’s youth is like giving the country’s economy an Oprah Winfrey-approved protein shake.
The problem is, not enough people see the worth in education. They may say, “What about the more vital needs? Shouldn’t we address these first?” I believe that Mali Rising Foundation’s entire purpose is to show that improving education is a vital need. Hunger, violence, a shattered infrastructure, these are all issues that will have to be solved by critical thinking, hardworking people with a passion to protect. What happens when those people leave? It’ll be the next generation of Mali citizens in charge of securing the country’s wellbeing. The citizens must be properly educated to ensure the country will be left in safe hands. By addressing education as a vital need, we can prevent the other issues from ever returning.
America has always been the country determined to stand on its own. We proved this when we broke away from a global empire and managed to emerge as an internationally regarded giant in only two hundred years. We could not have done this without the countries that helped us win the initial battle. So now, centuries later, we see Mali, a country struggling like we once did to overcome its own shackles. In the spirit of true patriotism, it is only right we pay back the kindness we once received and help the underdog rise to its potential.
Thank you to all our essay reviewers and judges who made the contest possible, and to all the students who submitted essays. Stay tuned for the announcement of second and first place winners on Wednesday & Thursday respectfully.