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Over the last few years, publications such as the Guardian, Scientific American and the Brookings Institution have headlined a conclusion that Past District 5240 Governor Deepa Willingham reached long ago — to change the world for the better, to save the planet, and lift up communities from abject poverty you have to educate the girls.  It is the best investment you can make and promises the highest rewards. 

 

 
 
 

Deepa, who in addition to being Past District Governor is Past President of the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez, was born and grew up in India.  From an early age, she was imbued by her mother with the ethic that all people are to be treated with dignity and kindness and that we all have a responsibility to help those less fortunate members of society.  This ethic coupled with the advice of her primary school geography teacher (who later was known to the world as Mother Teresa) to “…never give up even when you think you are completely in a hopeless situation,” inspired Deepa to start PACE Universal in 2003. The acronym PACE stands for Promise of Assurance for Children Everywhere. Rotary has been an essential partner from the start. 

 

 

PACE Universal’s mission is to end the trafficking of women and girls and to eliminate extreme poverty in communities through the education of girls and women.  Too often in extremely poor communities, girls and women are seen as a burden, treated like chattel, married off in childhood or sold into slavery.  In India one of the main epicenters of human trafficking is located at South 24 Paraganas District in West Bengal where the village of Piyali Junction is located, about 30 miles outside of Kolkata.  It was there that PACE established the Piyali Learning Center.  Originally Deepa envisioned the Piyali school would to take in 25 students.  It now has 230+ students attending classes from nursery school through 12th grade.  PACE also provides safe housing for children who face danger at home, adult literacy classes and vocational training for women.

 

   

Deepa’s vision and determined drive to establish PACE has led to her being recognized as a Women of Action honoree at the White House in 2014, a Time Now-Global Amazing Indian by the Times of India in 2015, and one of three “Inspiring Women of Action” by the World Bank in 2016 observance of International Women’s Day.  In the following video, made for the World Bank ceremony, Deepa talks about the why and how of PACE.

 

(If you cannot see the video below on your device, click here)
 

 


In an interview by Impact Mania, Deepa was asked who her inspired her and why. Her tribute to her mother is in this touching video below.

 

(If you cannot see the video below on your device, click here)
 

 


For more information about PACE Universal and the Piyali Learning Center or to sponsor a student or otherwise support PACE’s work, visit their webpage  http://paceuniversal.org

You can also keep up with what is going on at PACE on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paceuniversal/ 
 

For more on why educating girls is essential, check out the following sources:

What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’s Best Investment, by Gene Sperling and Rebecca Winthrop (2015: Brookings Institution Press).  https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/whatworksingirlseducation1.pdf

“How Women Can Save the Planet,” Lawrence M. Krause, Scientific American, Nov. 1, 2009 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-women-can-save-the-planet/

 “Educate women and their community will prosper. Deny them education and the world will suffer,” Julia Gillard and Cate Blanchett, The Guardian, Sept. 30, 2014.  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/01/educate-women-and-their-community-will-prosper-deny-them-education-and-the-world-will-suffer

 
 
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