Travel Log 11: “Holding Up Half the Sky” By Taylor Chelo. Perugia, Italy

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half The Sky, is an anthology of stories from the true lives of oppressed women from around the world. Although this collection of stories shed light on the devastating, misogynistic hardships that women face worldwide, they also highlight the strength and courage these women had to make a change and create a brighter future for other females undergoing similar challenges. After reading a short synopsis of this book prior to reading, I was nervous that I would not be able to finish reading due to being emotionally taken back by the mistreatment of such innocent women. However, Kristof and WuDunn did a remarkable job of not only educating their readers about the severity of gender inequality around the globe, but also inspiring their readers to take action as women like Mukhtar have toward creating more opportunities for women.

Mukhtar was a young woman from Punjab, a state bordering Pakistan that is considered the heart of India’s Sikh community. Mukhtar’s younger brother, Shakur, was kidnapped by the Mastoi, an upper-caste clan, and gang-raped. The tribal community held a meeting regarding the crime, a crime that the Mastoi tried to cover up by blaming Shakur for raping a local woman. As a punishment for Shakur’s supposed crime, the clan gang-raped Mukhtar in a building next door that was somewhat exposed to the public. She was overcome with humiliation, humiliation that drove her to resort to suicide —  “the expected way for a woman to cleanse herself and her family of the shame” (Kristof 70). Luckily, though, Mukhtar intervened and prevented her from going to such lengths. As time progressed, Mukhtar’s humiliation turned into rage, a rage that drove her to be courageous and report the rape to the police. The police captured those of the Mastoi clan, and gave Mukhtar $8,300 in compensation. Although Mukhtar never received an education herself, she knew that schools are what her village needed most. Thus, she invested her newly acquired wealth into the field of education by starting her own schools and eventually her own aid groups especially made for women.

Mukhtar’s story impacted me the most in this book, not only because she channeled such negative emotion into positive action, but also because she, like me, has a passion for changing the lives of children through education. I have wanted to become a teacher ever since I was a little girl. I used to “play school” on the weekends with my younger siblings by assuming the role as teacher in my kitchen while my sister and brother were my students. I have always loved school and all the opportunities education has to offer, and I wanted to make my dream occupation a reality.

However, when it came time to apply for colleges and choose a field of study, many family and friends tried to deter me away from this path. They would constantly say how little the pay is and how limited job openings can be. Mukhtar also received negative reactions from local Pakistanis about her ambitions to become an educator: “Some upper-class Pakistanis, while originally sympathetic to Mukhtar, scorned her as an uneducated peasant….they urged [Nicholas and Sheryl] to focus not on Mukhtar but on the work of doctors and lawyers in the cities” (Kristof 76). Many loved ones tried to push me toward the medical and law fields, as well, but I knew in my heart of hearts that those professions were not in the cards for me. So, like Mukhtar, I let the negative feedback fuel my ambitions of becoming the best educator I could be. Kristof explains how “[Mukhtar] spoke passionately of her belief in the redemptive quality of education, in her hope that men and women in the villages could live together in harmony if only they had an education” (Kristof 72). Mukhtar and I both knew that this was our purpose, and we did not let anyone tell us otherwise. God blessed us both with the gift of communicating well with children and helping them find their purpose in this life by giving them the education they deserve.

The topic of education that was touched upon in Mukhtar’s story and throughout the book is an essential solution to many of our world’s most pressing issues. Many people fail to realize that children do not simply learn core subjects in school. They also learn how to be more responsible citizens in the local, national, and global community. It’s not just the students learning from the teacher, either; education works vice versa, as well. During my internship here in Perugia at a local elementary school, for instance, I not only teach the


Giovanni Cena Scuola Elementare in Perugia, Italy

children the English language, but they also teach me the Italian language. Kristof explains how Mukhtar also shared this two-way learning experience with her students: “Mukhtar had enrolled in her own school, sitting beside the littlest girls and learning to read and write with them” (Kristof 72). The multifaceted nature of education and the positive influence it has on the future generation is extraordinary. It is a universal domino effect that is extremely underrated in today’s society just as the occupation of an educator is — an occupation that, mind you, is female-dominated.

I hope to reverse this curse through my current elementary education internship at Giovanni Cena Scuola Elementare in Perugia. Prior to leaving Quinnipiac and concluding my past Fall semester, I was approached by Dean Larkins-Strathy, the dean of the School of Education. Because I am the first student from the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

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Celebrating “Carnivale” with my fifth grade students.

Program to study abroad in Perugia, Italy, she has asked me to give a presentation regarding my internship experience abroad upon my return. By doing this, I can present MAT students like myself a practical way they can take their passion for teaching beyond America’s borders. I will be sure to incorporate Mukhtar’s story into my presentation so the future educators of the MAT Program can see how far their passion can take them. Women hold up half the sky, and so do educators.

Works Cited

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity

for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.


One thought on “Travel Log 11: “Holding Up Half the Sky” By Taylor Chelo. Perugia, Italy

  1. I think it’s awesome that you literally get to address this problem hands on, so immediately. Not only are you apart of the global community by venturing and living in new places but actually working with their community. I’m sure it helps you for language purposes as well as much as it helps the kids that you’re able to be there and help them! I’m happy for you that you’re having such an amazing hands-on experience and proving your leadership qualities half way across the world.


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