Dear Michelle Obama,

My name is Laura Preston, and I am Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon, in Central Africa. I am writing you this letter to thank you for all you have done to make the “Let Girls Learn” initiative come to be, and implore you to bring it back. “Let Girls Learn” gave girls all over the world the chance to benefit from good educational projects that were focused on their education and getting them to stay in school.  I was sad to hear last month that the project was possibly removed by the Trump administration. Based on what I have seen and experienced in the field, I feel girls’ education is crucial.

In Bafia, the town where I have lived for the past 2 years I have had the honor and challenge of teaching over 500 students English at the local public middle/high school. As you can imagine, it was a challenge to get to know every child in classes of 85 students, and yet some students managed to catch my attention. Some were the smartest, others were creative or had great senses of humor. And then there was Soko.

I had very few students for both years, but I managed to have Soko in seventh grade and then in eighth. She was a quiet girl, always sitting in the back of the room as far from the teacher as possible, doing anything to go against the flow of authority and society’s expectations of her, and yet I do not think she really knew her worth. She had few girlfriends, but was always walking around campus with the older boys. Eventually she stopped coming to class, and I had no way of contacting her to find out why she had disappeared so suddenly. It was only 7 months later that I discovered the truth. Soko had become pregnant at the age of 15. As her tiny body struggled to give birth to twins, eventually she experienced complications, and her parents were unable or unwilling to take her to the hospital, a three minute drive from their house. Eventually that night she and her children passed away.

I have seen and been part of the Let Girls Learn Initiative since its start, and have seen in a short time a major impact on the young girls who have benefitted from the program. So many girls have told me at the end of workshops, summer camps, and clubs that “wow, I really believe in myself now. I can do so much more. I can be so much more.” Soko could have been so much more. I wish I had built my own summer camp for girls, instead of helping my fellow volunteers with theirs. I wish I had reached out to her more, encouraging her to find other activities to be excited about instead of hanging out with boys, like coding apps for Technovation Challenge with my girls from the STEM Club, or playing volleyball with our school’s powerful teams. I wish I had forced her to sit in a different seat, make new girlfriends, and listen up in class.

I know there is a lot of uncertainty around the “Let Girls Learn” program, but I am writing you this letter to beg you to please help us continue the initiative, one way or another. If the program continues, I hope you will continue supporting it. If it stops, I hope that you will support an organization that can help it continue, giving girls their right to stay in school, and have a good quality education.

I have been humbled by the girls I have met here in Cameroon and around the world. They have so many obstacles and challenges to face on a daily basis that they need all of the support they can get to have that education that will bring them to a place of independence, economic prosperity, and a long, happy, healthy life. Thank you for all you have done to help girls like Soko live. And thank you for helping save more like her.