Second Place in the Make the Case for Caring Essay Contest

By Merritt Frey, Executive Director

Justin Song, our second place winner in the 2018 Make the Case for Caring Essay Contest.

Justin Song, our second place winner in the 2018 Make the Case for Caring Essay Contest.

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 -- and today we announce our second place winner, Justin Song of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. (See this blog post for our third place winner).

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?

Justin is 16 years old and in the 11th grade. He wrote an essay that was packed with hard facts, but also based in a moving personal family story. He made the case that education is the "fuel" for both health and discovery.

"I hope that people who read my essay are able to understand how important access to a good education is to the development of a country and for the well-being of the people," Justin says. "Education gives young people in all countries the opportunity to overcome obstacles, become innovators, and revolutionize the world. I want to spread awareness to the mission of turning education into a basic human right and ensuring that every person around the world, wherever they live, has equal access to this right."

He continues, "Before researching and writing my essay, I did not truly understand how sparse access to education is around the world especially in countries like Mali but this essay has opened my eyes to the extent and severity of this global issue. It also made me realize how so many people with access to education often take such a wonderful gift for granted while other children can only wish for the same opportunity."

Read Justin's full essay:

The Fuel for Health and Discovery

As the sun peeks out across the horizon, a young boy, only 11 years old, treads along a long and jagged road, his feet tucked inside his mother’s homemade grass-threaded shoes. He grips the mere stub of a pencil and a small piece of paper, eager for the exciting journey ahead of him. This boy is none other than my very own father and his journey is the journey of education, the adventure that promises a brilliant light at the end of a tunnel no matter how dark. Through education and his sheer determination to learn, my father, who was expected to be nothing but a Chinese peasant farmer, was able to beat all odds and enjoy everything he has today with his family in America. 

Unfortunately, in Mali, many people are not even given the chance to take advantage of such a journey and live with a stable income. In fact, 69% of the population lies below the international poverty line. The obvious solution would be to pour tangibles like money and canned food into the arms of the Mali people. However, education should be the top priority.

But why?

Education can both improve the overall health of the population while also fueling technological advances and economic growth. 

As of 2012, HIV was estimated to affect 100,000 people in Mali. However, only about 14.6% of women aged 15-24 have comprehensive knowledge of HIV and only 38% of males aged 15-24 use condoms during intercourse.  With the introduction of basic health education, people can learn the necessary prevention methods to reduce their chances of contracting HIV as well as other viruses/diseases. Moreover, education gives people greater access to medical professionals as it provides young aspiring doctors and nurses with the training they need to help patients. Take Mariam, for example, a caring daughter and sister living in Mali who dreams of becoming a nurse to help people around her. Unless she attains the proper science or medical education inside the classroom, she will not be able to assist in hospitals and clinics. Thus, education is vital to equip young motivated people like Mariam with the proper tools to fulfill their dreams and treat patients in need. 

Education not only improves the overall health of a population but also allows for economic growth. First, looking solely at statistics, no country has been able to achieve rapid economic growth “without at least 40 percent of adults being able to read and write.” This is because education instills in children the necessary skills to be successful in the workforce as well as the aspiration to learn and explore from a young age. This early aspiration is the driving force for innovation and invention. Without fostering within children this motivation to learn, a country cannot technologically advance nor boost its economy. 

Education should be treated as a basic human right and as a global family, we must strive to fully extend this right to countries like Mali in order to help them achieve a truly brighter future.

Works cited (footnotes omitted in this blog post for formatting reasons):

1.      “8 Things To Know About Hunger In Mali | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide.” UN World Food Programme, 15 May 2013,

2.      “Statistics.” UNICEF, 27 Dec. 2013,

3.      “Student Spotlight.” Mali Rising Foundation,

4.      “Why Is Education for All So Important?” Results, Results Educational Fund,