I feel the kind of evangelical fervour towards Half the Sky that is usually saved for purely religious tomes. It manages to do the most magical thing in that it hits you round the head with the horrors of injustice while at the same time making you feel overwhelmingly positive about the organisations and individuals who are fighting (and winning) their battles against it.

I have always been politically aware and as a teenager was known to leap on the odd soapbox or two (I do not envy my teachers – I was a giant pain in the arse!). As I grew older, I continued to volunteer, fundraise and pursue a keen interest in fighting injustice but my loud mouth and bullishly argumentative nature calmed (a bit). Getting older has made me a better listener and has opened my mind to the complexities of the issues I’m passionate about. However, reading Half the Sky last year reached inside me to that precocious and lively teenage debater and pulled a little bit of her to the surface, at least enough to make me think: where did that girl of action go?!

For a long time before reading the book, I had been looking into doing an MA in Development Education so that I could change career and finally feel like I was having a direct, positive impact on the world. However, it’s a notoriously difficult sector to break into (as well as a highly competitive course) and it would be years before I would ever reach a level where I could feel that impact.

I hate wasting time and the sudden loss of my mum did nothing to help my patience. It was like being hit over the head with the cliché “life is too short”. It may well be the longest bloody thing we ever do but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still far too short. Doing an MA just wasn’t a viable option for me. For a year I floated between being determined to make an impact on the world before I leave it and not seeing the point in doing anything at all, who would even notice.

Then I came across Half the Sky. In researching the MA, I had read many books about developing countries and their issues but none came close to the impact of Half the Sky. Within a couple of chapters I had written down organisations to contact, underlined facts and figures to pass on and felt the joy of knowing I could take action and see results. Inspirational doesn’t seem a big enough word to describe how I felt learning about the women who were taking matters into their own hands.

I finished the book feeling positive but continued to be haunted for the next few weeks about what to do next.

It didn’t take long for something to crop up. About a month before my 30th birthday my dad, sister and husband began asking for gift ideas. You know the ones: “something you can keep”. My response was that I didn’t want gifts but if they gave me the money I would do something little in memory of mum. So what could I do? Girl’s scholarships were an option and they had a great track record of results as well as appealing to my passion for education.

I looked into organisations for scholarships but there was a nagging thought that just wouldn’t leave me: what I’d really like to do is build a school.

I will never be able to marry my own experience of growing up with the plight of girls in the developing world today. My parents taught us to value education and to see it as our right. To know girls are sold, kidnapped or just ignored in favour of sons makes me not only want to jump back on that soapbox but to hit someone round the head with it! But that wouldn’t help anyone.

If I wanted to honour my mum’s memory there seemed only one way for me to do it. Honour her passion to provide her children with the best education possible. I would try to raise enough money to build a school.

The rest is not quite history yet but we are (to date) £18,000 into a campaign to raise £25,000.  We have a school building where over 400 students and 9 members of staff have started their education journey. This is only the beginning as we continue to support every child who enters the school gates. We need money for computers, solar panels, books, teacher’s salaries, gardening equipment and much, much more. But we have a school.

Today a building exists that wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t read Half the Sky. There is a building that wouldn’t exist if my mum hadn’t had such an impact on the people who knew her to get behind me and support this campaign.

I may never complete that MA or work directly in development education. I’m ok with that. Half the Sky taught me about the survivors across the world achieving amazing things. Janie’s School has taught me about the unimaginable kindness of strangers and the overwhelming support of family and friends. Now how could I not want to recommend that to anyone who will listen :O)

You can find Jen tweeting @livefreerange, or over at livefreerange.com

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