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Gioia Reading, 2011.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
— Nelson Mandela

After spending the better part of December on the road, I have been feverishly working these last couple of days to get my annual holiday prints out the door.

This year’s photograph I took last Spring of my 5 year old daughter, Gioia, reading in our garage in Connecticut. I saw that she had plopped herself down to read a book in the warmth of the sun with her water bottle next to her. Remnants of her babyhood—her former crib and baby car seat—lie around in the background. Gioia has learned to read before our eyes, and to begin to devour the world through all things legible: books, signs, recipes, cereal boxes, advertisements and poems.

At about the same time that I took the photograph of Gioia, I was finishing teaching my class at the International Center of Photography. One of my students, Amira Al-Sharif, a photojournalist from Yemen, inspired me with her story of coming to the US to study photography on a Kickstarter grant and her continued success, which is evident in an interview with her on NPR. Amira told me of the struggles that she and other women faced growing up and living in Yemen, especially in rural areas. However, in spite of her hardships, Amira adamantly embraced tradition and spoke lovingly of her family and her country.  Amira grew up in Sana’a, the capital, and with the support of her father she had access to an education that many women throughout Yemen do not have. Given this opportunity, she has dedicated her photography “to work for a better life for the girls of Yemen.”

Najat Reading, 2009. Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif.

This photograph by Amira shows 18-year-old Najat Al-Suraihi learning to read in her father’s kitchen. She married when she was 12 and was subsequently beaten and abused by her husband who left her and took their only child, a 2 year old girl, with him. She now lives with her father and, as Amira puts it, “has two dreams: to be divorced and to be a nurse.”

As Gioia sat reading in the garage that day, in lands far away from rural Connecticut waves of protests were changing the Arab world dramatically and, closer to home, we have seen Occupy protests continue into the winter. It is increasingly clear in the news that knowledge is power and transparency is the expectation of the people.  I am inspired and hopeful that true change in the world can happen without the need of a massive war machine.  This holiday season my wish is that the simplest of activities—a girl reading a book—can bring us closer to realizing world peace.

Finally, I am asking that you consider making a donation this year, as I have, to one of the organizations below that empowers women and girls around the world through literacy and education.

Global Fund for Women

World Education