Tree of life

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 3 July 2014

When I was in primary school I climbed one of the biggest trees in the known world. It was around five kilometres tall, looming over the surrounding landscape. Anyone who could climb a tree like that would have been a real hero – a legend in their own time.

I set about about it with a nimble dexterity, moving between the branches like I was half-boy, half-tree frog.

But then one of my classmates, the size of an ant, did the lowest thing a person could do. They shouted up that they would inform the authorities. Tree climbing was banned and I knew it.

I panicked and shot back down. On the ground reality hit, I didn’t know what to do – a janitor was coming. I became seized by the kind of frozen terror well known to any outlaw.

Things were saved by the arrival of my sister – who was three years older than me and had accumulated vast knowledge about the workings of the world. She advised me to hide, which worked well (the janitor didn’t actually care).

The memory came back to me following a report from Girls not Brides, highlighting the fact that 14 million girls every year are forced into marriage before they turn 18, depriving them of a childhood and their right to an education.

In some parts of the world, girls are married as young as age nine. The number is growing.

These topics may not seem related but climbing a tree and getting advice from my sister were normal parts of my childhood. It was something I took for granted.

She is a high school biology teacher now, which makes sense, I am proud to think that she is giving the same sort of guidance to school kids that she gave to me.

Teaching is about more than having knowledge, and learning is about more than picking it up. Teachers are not the only people who teach us.

Everyone a child interacts with plays a role in their development and even if my sister has never explained photosynthesis to me, she has taught me a lot as my sister.

If she had not been to school she would not have been the same person and so, neither would I.

The benefits of education extend beyond an individual woman’s own life – it improves societies and economies as well. If we do not plant it as a seed, the roots will not spread, society will not grow and none of us will climb.  

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