Our First Place Essay from Kaelyn Ha of Hunter College High School!

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 -- and today we're excited to announce our first place winner, Kaelyn Ha of Hunter College High School in New York, New York. (See this blog post for our third place winner and this post for our second 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?

Kaelyn is 15 years old and in the 10th grade. We asked her how writing her essay changed how she thought about education. Kaelyn responded, "Before I researched on the topic and wrote the essay, I'd known that education was important. Like most students, I had an understanding that going to school--learning some math, science, and history would ultimately help me choose and pursue the career I wanted."

She continued, "But in many ways, I took that education for granted because I lived in a city where education was a norm. I didn't realize until doing my research that there are places where education has more a profound effect on the country and its citizens--places where education didn't just grant citizens a job, but where it meant the difference between civil war and peace, between economic stability and poverty. Places like Mali. That realization made me appreciate my education even more."

Kaelyn's winning essay combined a catchy introduction with a clear thesis and well-researched arguments. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as our judges did: 

The Healing Power of Education

Dancing in shimmering golden dresses in Timbuktu, Malians sing of their rich history and recent troubles--calling upon their countrymen to remember the 2012 attacks on the North and to recall the secessionists and jihadists who terrorized the nation.  Their voices trembling with pain and passion, the Malians recount the struggles that have been plaguing their country for years. With the nation suffering from poverty, lack of proper nutrition and healthcare, civic turmoil, the Malians face a serious crisis in envisioning their future. Despite all of Mali’s problems, it is important that education be made a priority.

When a country like Mali is facing security problems, the most obvious solution seems to be to further arm the military. While it seems counter-intuitive to be funding education during times of unrest and strife, it is in fact the only long-term solution that guarantees peace. According to the International Studies Quarterly, an increase of secondary school enrollment from 30% to 81% can dramatically lower the risk of internal war by two-thirds.  With schooling, we gain the wisdom and compassion to more deeply understand the human experience. In the end, it’s compassion and understanding, not weapons, that prevents wars.

Moreover, despite Mali being a major exporter of cotton and gold, it is also one of the poorest countries in Africa.  Yet again, the obvious solution--providing food and medical supplies—simply will not suffice. Eventually, all those supplies would run out. It is, like the military solution, only temporary. Instead, by prioritizing secondary education, students attain the skills to eventually secure better job opportunities, advance Mali medicine, and create businesses that can self-sustain Mali’s economy.

Education has far reaching benefits for both the nation and the child. For every year of schooling, the average student receives a future earnings increase of 10-20% percent, and the country’s GDP increases by nearly ½ percent.  In the economics of a developing country like Mali, this substantial increase is extremely important. In providing education for Mali’s children, we equip them with the tools to improve their lives and the welfare of their country.

It’s not an accident that many educated countries also have lower crime rates, poverty, and disease. Education does something that nothing else can. It trains students to think critically about history, equips them with a moral sense of right and wrong, and develops them into citizens of the world. And yet, despite all its benefits, we often times fail to appreciate the power of education, and the world suffers for it. We can no longer sit idly by as parts of the world descend into chaos. When future generations look back at this chapter of history, we can either be written off as bystanders, or memorialized as the generation that changed the world through education.

Sources (footnotes omitted from the blog version due to formatting issues)

Clayton L. Thyne, “ABC’s, 123’s, and the Golden Rule: The Pacifying Effect of Education on Civil War, 1980-1999,” International Studies Quarterly 50 (2006): 733-54, www.uky.edu/~clthyn2/thyne-ISQ-06.pdf.

Maclean, Ruth. “Islamists Banned Their Music. Now Timbuktu is Singing Again,” The Guardian, January 18, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/18/timbuktu-begins-to-sing-again-mali-music-jihadists.

“Major Problems Facing Mali Today,” AFRICA W., http://www.africaw.com/major-problems-facing-mali-today.

Mali Rising Foundation, “Why Middle School,” http://www.malirisingfdn.org/why-middle-school.