The face of a courageous young girl named Malala is burned forever in our minds.

These are her words:

I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school, I want an education, and I am afraid of no one.
— Malala Yousafzai

Malala took a bullet in the head for her resolve, and even that couldn’t stop her.

Malala’s courage is extraordinary; but her desire to learn shouldn’t be so surprising. Across the developing world children are hungry for an education. Their hunger is evident to anyone who has ever visited a functioning school classroom or after-school program. 

Last week, a story in the Cambodian papers ended with an ironic twist.

A young athlete, Sorn Seavmey, won Cambodia’s first ever gold medal in the Asian Games. She was naturally showered with praise and gifts on her return – plus one more thing...

It turns out she was one of many high school seniors this year who failed their graduation exams, so she was slated to take them again like all the rest who didn't pass. But Prime Minister Hun Sen declared that she will be granted an automatic passing grade.

This story captures one of the dilemmas with education in much of the developing world: the system favors some people over others. It’s not just about studying hard or ability; it’s also about power, money, and connections. People at the margins are on their own, and it's not a level playing field.

We know that getting educated is a proven way out of poverty. Improving schools and increasing access to them are staples of poverty reduction programs. 

Most of the "little brothers and little sisters" in the Alongsiders movement come from the poorest families. Some simply cannot attend school due to lack of finances or, in some cases, because they must stay home to work or look after siblings.

What can Alongsiders do to ensure EVERY child has a chance to learn?

It may seem small - insignificant even - but simple ongoing acts of one-on-one coaching can significantly impact the education of a boy or girl in poverty.

In practice it looks like this: Alongsider mentors regularly help their little brothers and sisters with their homework, encouraging them to stay in school, and continuing to walk alongside them over the long haul. Sometimes they reach into their own pockets to buy a little brother or sister a notebook or pen that's needed.

In the words of one Alongsider mentor:

My little brother goes to a school in the countryside where the teachers don’t require extra payments, because most of the families are too poor. The teachers have private classes after school, but he doesn’t attend those because he can’t afford them. But I encourage him, and he studies on his own every day. He can’t study a lot, because he has responsibilities like taking care of the cow and watching his brothers and sisters. But he studies enough.

In our impact assessment, 97% of the "little brothers and sisters" in the Alongsiders movement reported that they receive help with their studies. Around half of them said that their Alongsider mentor was the MAIN person who helped them with their homework. Many also reported that their mentors had bought them school supplies or paid school fees at their own expense.

And look at the results:

99% of little brothers and sisters surveyed are attending school, versus 55% of children of a similar demographic in the same neighborhoods.
— 2013 Impact Assessment

Impoverished students want to learn. It takes great determination to persevere, but it can be done. Every bit of encouragement and support and prayer from an Alongsider mentor helps them to find the strength inside themselves.

In the words of Malala, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”