Million of girls around the world are not so lucky.
One of the many things I love about being Irish is that as a nation, we like to help people. Maybe it’s because we have been through so much in our complete history, we feel we understand what it’s like to need aid and maybe we are, not to generalise, just nice people.
Or maybe we feel guilty, and donating money to charity or fundraising when a natural disaster occurs in another country, makes us feel less selfish for spending too much on a fancy cappuccino or getting a taxi when we could easily have taken the bus.
Over six thousand people sponsor children in developing countries through the charity Plan International Ireland including myself.
About six years ago, I was sitting in my nice little MTV studio in London when a girl in the office handed me a brochure for a campaign by Plan International called ‘Because I am Girl’. It referred to a report on the state of the girls in the world. 62 million girls are around the world are out of school. And something struck me, there are places in the world where you can’t access education … Because you are a girl.
That month I started sponsoring a little girl called Aiel Joy who lives on Daram Island in the Philippines. Aiel is now 11 and last week I met her for the first time.
Aiel and I have exchanged a few letters over the past few years and I had planned to visit in early January 2014 to fully understand the work of the charity and get to see this little girl and her way of life.
But on November 8 2013, Typhoon Haiyan—known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines—made landfall in the central Philippines, bringing strong winds and heavy rain resulting in flooding and landslides, creating mass devastation.
Aiel’s home was swept away. Thankfully Aiel Joy’s family, including her seven brothers and sisters were able to evacuate in time. Though not everyone in the area was as fortunate.
… Scroll down to see what happened next …
… Almost two years on and I am on a boat with my mother Carmel travelling from Catbologan to Daram having driven four hours from Tacolban having previously flown from London via Manila. I am just about to meet Aiel.
We are greeted by her mother Lisa and what seems to be the entire village, including the village band. I recognise Aiel immediately from the photo I’ve had on my mantelpiece for the past six years. She’s in her school uniform and presents me with a yellow flower garland she has made. We have lunch at her school and as I try my best to open up the local crab they have for us Aiel calmly and like a pro places the crab between her palm and opens it as you would a purse. I attempt the same and it slips out of hand and splatters my shirt. She giggles.
Aiel is turning 12 next month. She likes music, playing badminton and the colour pink. Electricity is hit and miss in her small home that they’ve rebuilt. It has a tin roof and through the palm floor boards, water flows like a small stream.
Plan International is the only NGO working on this island focusing on the poorest of the poor and ensuring all children have the opportunity to go to school. 100 children are sponsored here.
There are health issues due to obvious sanitation problems and one midwife based in the village and servicing 5 other villages. I meet and spend time with heavily pregnant Ivy who is about to have her first baby. I find out after a few minutes she is in labour but is glad to talk to me as it’s a distraction from her contractions.
Plan International funded the health centre we are in and provides training to community health workers who assist. I’ve since learned Ivy had a healthy little boy and is doing very well.
I only spent one day with Aiel and her family but was overwhelmed by the pride her family and friends have because she is sponsored. That there is someone else wanting her to stay in school and whatever she decides to do at least she has the opportunity to do so.
I’ve been very lucky to have opportunities in my life. And I’ve learned the best thing you can give someone is a chance to reach their potential. Creating sustainability and encouragement and giving a voice to those who may not always have one.