Her eyes were the deep, gorgeous brown of chocolate kisses. And the moment she looked at me, I felt as though she was telling me something without ever uttering a word. Her eyes said it all. This child, such a beautiful girl, was destined for something.
She had almost run into me as she raced down the dusty dirt road on her banana bike, flying over mud puddles and heaps of garbage and other unidentified objects – until she had to brake to miss me. Clearly I didn’t belong there; I was a new and foreign face and thus, somewhat suspect. Rarely did outsiders come to visit the community where she lived; she seemed intrigued as her chocolate brown eyes met mine.
But I could tell that I would have to be the one to make the first move.
So I smiled and introduced myself, and she reciprocated. “I’m Jasmina,” she said. Within sheer seconds there must have been ten or twelve other little girls surrounding us, wanting to know what this surprise encounter was all about. No one ever came to this community, and certainly no one would bother to speak to the girls there.
It did not take long before we had created what felt like an impromptu girls club, as they asked me questions about who I was, where I came from, if I had a husband and kids, and why I was there. Luckily, I was able to tell them, in the local language, and they were then open to my questions. By this time, the men and the boys, in addition to their mothers and aunts and grannies, had also come out to try and figure out what in the world was happening. We had become a spectacle.
It was right then that I was able to ask Jasmina the question I had been eagerly waiting to ask her all morning: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I urged her to dream, keenly aware of the risk I was taking in doing so, for it’s dicey to ask such a question knowing that you may not be able to help fulfill that dream.
When Jasmina looked up at me, those chocolate kiss eyes even wider and brighter, she boldly exclaimed, “I want to be a teacher. I want to go to school.”
The chances of Jasmina going to school, a young Roma girl living in one of the most poverty-stricken areas of Serbia, were slim to none. Rarely do Roma boys have the opportunity to go to school, let alone girls. That was just unheard of.
But CWS is in the business of not only asking risky and critical questions, but also of having some of the solutions to the issues that those questions raise. CWS is in the business of making dreams come true.
Thanks to our work among easily one of the most marginalized, despised and misunderstood populations in our world, Jasmina is now going to school. Jasmina is receiving an education. One day, Jasmina may just fulfill her dream to become a teacher.
We have made that happen.
On this International Women’s Day, I lift up the work of Church World Service and all of our global partners as we commit to educating and empowering girls and women. For they are our future. They are the key to ending poverty. They are the key to building a world where there is authentic peace with justice.
Join me and all of us at CWS in celebrating Jasmina and all girls like her. May we, because of our work and commitment to making dreams come true, ensure that all girls have the chance to go to school. This will change the entire world.
Rev. Amy Gopp, Director of Member Relations and Pastoral Care