My One Cent: Paige Miller
My One Cent: Paige Miller
Paige Miller is a program coordinator for the Women’s and Gender Studies department at the University of Alabama. She’s also a long-time CARE advocate and one of CARE Action’s fellows for 2016. We asked Paige: Why do you advocate with CARE? This is Paige’s story:
In my career, I’ve done a lot of work in domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and women and girls’ empowerment. Just to be a little bit personal…I grew up in a home with domestic violence and saw my mother oppressed. She wasn’t empowered because of her lack of education. That’s one of the things that sparked me to seek a college education - seeing how she was unable to access resources. She never graduated from high school. She didn’t have any job skills. She didn’t even have any idea of different types of resources that might be available to her or even that this was not an appropriate way to live. When I saw that other families didn’t work like this, I resolved to avoid the same pit falls as my mother. Education was the way to do that. I wasn’t a brilliant student, but I was a decent student and the first person in my family to ever complete college. That opened a whole world of opportunities for me. That’s empowerment.
I attended a small church in Tuscaloosa, The University Presbyterian Church. About eight years ago they sent an announcement out about a CARE conference that talked about poverty and empowering women and girls and they wanted to send some church members. I said, “Yes! Me! I want to go.” I didn’t actually know what CARE was or what I’d be doing when I got to D.C. I just blindly went into it.
I am a U.S. citizen with opportunities to go to college, but girls living around the world may not even get to go to primary school. I wanted to share my empowerment so that girls who are married at 10, 12 or 13, that never get to realize their full potential, can become what they want to be…nurses, doctors, teachers. I don’t make a great deal of money, but I do have time and a voice. I can say, ‘just as I was allowed an education in the United States, a girl in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia deserves the same.’
I think a great deal about teachers who helped me. A teacher explained how to fill out financial aid forms. I didn’t even know that was a thing that existed. Why did that teacher help me? Because she saw potential in me and felt the imperative to share her resources. She passed on to me the idea that you can do more, that more is available to you if you’re educated, if you have food on your table, if you don’t have to get married when you’re 13. Certainly, we have issues in this country… but we don’t understand the extent to which women and girls are restricted in other countries.
A lot of faith communities do mission work. They go to Mexico and build houses or Africa to build a school or South America to pick cocoa beans. But, the Presbyterian Church started looking at advocacy as a form of mission. Say I decide to go to South America for a mission. It’s going to cost a certain amount of money for me to get there and spend two weeks. I probably won’t be very good at picking cocoa beans. I’d meet with women and children in the community; see what they do and maybe help them a little bit. But they do this every day for a living so how much is my help going to impact them?
Instead, I could come to D.C. and advocate for policies that might impact millions of people. Our church sees it as a form of mission that can help people for real. Instead of picking beans, why not make it so girls can go to school? Make domestic violence illegal, make it possible for children to get vaccines or clean water. With advocacy, we can make life-changing differences in people’s lives.
People talk about the American dream and I think advocating with CARE lets us live that out. You get to see how your voice can be heard in our government. The women and girls we’ve talked about don’t get the same say in their countries. That’s why it’s my privilege and also my obligation to participate in that process.