Paying it forward

Evelyn and her children

There’s a home video my mom recorded on my first day of kindergarten. We’re walking to school, and I’ve got my hair up in a half ponytail. I’m wearing a very pink backpack featuring Esmerelda from the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I am clearly very proud of it. It’s about as tall as I am, and the straps hang down, almost dragging along the sidewalk as I bounce along.

Every kid deserves to experience the excitement of the first day of school.
Evelyn and her children
Evelyn, with her children. From left to right: Joyce, 6, Elijah, 3, Evelyn, and Emmanuel, 9.

I’d like to imagine Evelyn’s first day of school went something like that, even though she was halfway around the world in Uganda. Maybe she held her mother’s hand as their shoes kicked up dust in the morning light. Maybe she smoothed out her uniform before taking that last step into the schoolyard, embarking on an entirely new phase in her young life. Maybe her backpack was just as big as she was.

I know that Evelyn and I have at least one thing in common: we both have strong, passionate mothers who knew what they wanted for their daughters. For my mom, that meant moving a few towns over so I could go to a good public school. For Evelyn’s mom, it meant enrolling her daughter in Plan’s sponsorship program.

It wasn’t always guaranteed that Evelyn would go to school. Her family wasn’t rich, and between buying school supplies and the cost of transportation, education didn’t come cheap. She might not have gone to school at all, had her mom not heard about Plan.

The decision to enroll Evelyn in Plan’s sponsorship program was a source of contention between her parents. Her father wanted Evelyn to get married. But her mom was convinced Plan could change her daughter’s life.

“She saw it as an opportunity to let me have a chance in life,” Evelyn remembers. “My mother knew going to school would make me a better person.”

Evelyn’s mom was right, just like mine was. At 9 years old, Evelyn became a sponsored child. As a result, she was able to attend a well-equipped school, instead of marrying young and having children while still a child herself. Plan programs, supported by donors like you, even helped Evelyn continue to secondary school and get the training she needed to become a teacher.

Today, she teaches at a primary school, and thinks of herself as an example for every one of her students.

“I’m a role model for the girls I teach,” she says.

She’s also a role model for her own daughter, Joyce, who already has big plans just like her mom. Joyce wants to be a nurse when she grows up.

Because of strong women like Evelyn and her mom, these girls can see a different kind of future for themselves. They could be leaders, professionals, changemakers. They might not wear Esmerelda backpacks, but they will have the chance to dream big. And who knows? Maybe, someday, it will be their faces on a little girl’s backpack, as she eagerly steps inside a classroom on her first day of school.

That chain reaction will reverberate through generations — and it all started with one sponsor, helping one little girl in Uganda go to school, and one mom on a mission. They believed in one little girl’s limitless potential, and that made all the difference in the world.