Olympic champion and Plan Canada Celebrated Ambassador Jenn Heil meets with girls in Rwanda. (Photo: Plan Canada)
All children -- like these kids at a school in Kenya - need support and encouragement to succeed. (Photo: Plan Canada)
In communities like these, poverty conspires against children in so many ways to keep them from reaching their potential, but in Burkina Faso I met a group of girls who were in school thanks to Plan-sponsored programs that offered them not only scholarships but bicycles to get to class, along with safer spaces to learn in with more resources and better-trained teachers, and a community more attuned to the importance of girls' education.
Speaking to these girls, who had such wonderful energy and enthusiasm, it was clear just how much this experience was nurturing their self-belief and encouraging them to dream big -- to want to be teachers, doctors and leaders of their community. As one young girl said to me, "education is the opportunity to become a citizen of tomorrow."
When I learned that bullying impacts half of all school children in Kenya, I jumped at the chance to support the new Gift of Hope, the Anti-bullying project, that Plan Canada launched this year to give these kids access to the kind of support and encouragement that I know can make all the difference. The Anti-bullying project is helping ensure students, teachers and parents are educated and trained to address bullying and other forms of school violence when it happens. Employing a range of initiatives, from "speak-out boxes" where children can anonymously report bullying to a 24-hour toll-free telephone and web-based helpline, the project will benefit thousands of girls and boys.
A Kenyan school boy demonstrates use of a speak-out box. (Photo: Plan Canada)
One of the most compelling facts I've learned about bullying as I've worked on this initiative is just how much power each of us has to stop it.
Research has shown that we can stop bullying in our midst in ten seconds, if we just say something and challenge it.
For those who want to do more, I've seen first hand the positive impact that Plan's programs have on the lives of children from some of the poorest communities in the world.
Bullying is an affront to the dignity, spirit and potential of people everywhere, young and old, in every arena of life. But for kids in Kenya who've overcome huge barriers just to be in school, it has the potential to derail their education, and that's the only real chance they have of escaping poverty. For these kids, the stakes couldn't be higher, and they need more allies, like us, in their corner.
Jenn Heil is an Olympic champion and Plan Canada Celebrated Ambassador.