Guest Blogger: Singer/Songwriter Sonia Rao on why girls' education is important to her

Growing up, I saw the people who spoke out in class as different from me. I watched as people raised their hands to share their ideas voluntarily, yelling out the answers, proud that they knew it or not caring if they didn’t. Later, when I got to college, I looked at the adult versions of these same kids—writers, actors, bloggers, and young politicians—and had the same thought: that they possessed some trait that magically gave them lots of strong opinions and also an ability and desire to express these opinions. Though I loved reading and hearing other people’s ideas, I never felt an urge to say any of my own, nor did I think I had any ideas of my own worth speaking up about. I watched it all and happily figured I was more of a spectator kind of gal.

Things shifted for me when I began writing songs. I was living in San Francisco at the time, working at a job that I was thankful to have, but consisted of staring at a computer screen typing in numbers; I was less than fulfilled. I had grown up learning instruments: violin, piano, and flute. But as before, I was reading notes that were already written. Though I had learned to play hundreds of songs, I had no idea how to go about creating one of my own. 

One evening after work, I sat down at my keyboard and decided that for just one hour, I would let go of my ‘I don’t know how’s and ‘But I’m not a writer’s and ‘But how do I start’s and would try to write for an hour. The song might be terrible and it might confirm my expectation that I have no idea what I’m doing, but I was going to sit my booty down and write a song. What ended up happening surprised the hell of out me. I stayed in the chair and continued to write for several hours, exhilarated at this newfound form of expression. I wrote my first song “Summer and Wine” that evening. 

About one year before that evening, my boyfriend had passed away. There were no words for what it felt like to lose him. Or at least I thought so until I wrote that first song. Once I started writing, words and melodies appeared. They were appearing more quickly than I could write down. This rush of ideas has been the feeling for every song I’ve written since then. For most of the songs I’ve written, I sit down at my piano or pick up my guitar with no idea of what to write about. But once I start writing the first words, ideas come and it is very clear what needs to be said. That summer I wrote song after song – about losing him, about what comes next, about finding happiness in San Francisco. These songs became my first album, “Calm Her.” 

The lesson I learned that summer has stuck with me: once we start writing, the ideas come. Once we start singing, the melodies appear. Once we start asking, help and guidance will arrive. 

The women of Commit2Change are inspiring to me in this way. Commit2Change is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating systemic change by educating abandoned and impoverished girls in India. Each team member is a working professional, some working multiple jobs, with families and busy schedules. Between them however, they have come together to support over 400 children in building a better future for themselves. 

When these women came together around this issue that they deeply cared about, I’m sure there was a time when they weren’t exactly sure how to move forward and how to solve such an enormous problem. However, even though they didn’t have every answer, they put the first words and music down on paper. They did move forward. Eventually the song was written – Commit2Change continues to grow and positively impact the lives of many children. 

There is so much in the lives of young Indian girls that has taught them that they do not matter. People learn that their lives matter when their stories are heard – even by one person. In order for these girls to begin to tell their stories, they need: 1) the basic resources for living, and 2) access to education. Commit2Change works toward addressing both of these needs. The organization focuses on secondary education for girls since that is where the most drop-off is seen and where they think it will be most impactful. Practically, this means providing fees, school supplies, improving nutrition and access to healthcare, and hiring qualified teachers. 

Commit2Change has found that an educated girl marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children; an extra year of school boosts wages by 10-20%; an extra year of secondary school boosts wages by 15-25%; and an educated girl will invest 90% of her future income in her family. 

It is an uphill battle. There are so many shell orphanages in India that politicians have set up for their own advancement or to gain government funds. According to a 2009 Unicef report, India has the world’s largest and fastest growing population of street children. With the bias against girls, this results in a problem that is growing more quickly than people are working on it. However, change begins with awareness. And with organizations like Commit2Change, more and more people are learning about the plight of orphan girls in India. 

Sometimes with such a daunting problem, the way forward is unclear. Just like the women of Commit2Change, though, I urge you to just start with one tiny change: Make the questions smaller. Asking yourself ‘How can I stop the neglect of girls in India?’ is too enormous of a question. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What is one small thing I can do today towards this end?’ That could be reading the first page of one article about the issue, giving $10 to an organization like Commit2Change, or posting the question that you’ve asked yourself on Facebook to see what ideas that generates. Just start with one tiny step, and change will come.