Senior Jimena Ruiz knows first-hand that she’s much more fortunate than many young women her age who live in Mexico, her native country. She’s most certainly fortunate to be attending a top-tier school like Saint Andrew’s, but from her new-found perspective, she knows she’s lucky to be in school at all.
In far too many parts of Mexico, girls are often overlooked when it comes to prioritizing the education of Mexican youth. Girls are often expected to become ‘muchachas’ --- servants or maids to wealthier families.
In her IB Economics class with teacher Mr. Gabe Toth, Jimena began to fully realize the impact and long-term problems in Mexico created by the custom of not educating young women. When she was studying in the final track of the class, which focused on Development Economics, Jimena began to see that the lack of opportunities for young women in her country was not just a social issue, but a true economic handicap.
“That’s really where the light went on for Jimena,” said Toth. “She decided to research the missed economic opportunity so she’d be armed with real facts and figures that would allow her to make a case for change supported by facts.” That theme of ‘missed economic opportunity’ became the subject of Jimena’s 4,000-word Extended Essay titled “How Much Does the Lack of Girls’ Education Hinder the Economy of a Developing Country?” Later on, she carried over her research to develop her IB Community, Action, Service (CAS) Project.
“In some countries, such as Mexico, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the number of girls educated is disproportionately lower compared to boys,” Jimena stated. “Through my research, it became clear that the lack of investment in human capital was having a direct, negative effect on that entire country’s economic development.”
Toth commented that Jimena realized that if girls are educated, it raises the quality of life for everyone. “Increased educational opportunities would not only lead to growth in a country’s GDP and standard of living, but those same young women would then be capable of empowering their own children to have brighter futures,” Toth said.
During her research, Jimena discovered a group called Me to We, an international non-profit focused on building schools and providing education to girls across the world. Jimena decided she wanted to help. “This is really where her research project closed the loop from academic study and raising awareness to real-world action,” stated Toth.
Jimena recently made a presentation of her work to the entire Saint Andrew’s Upper School. “I didn’t really know what the reaction would be from my fellow classmates, but their supportive responses are more than I ever could have imagined. I was blown away.”
Many students offered to help, including members of the Saint Andrew’s football varsity and junior varsity teams. As part of the Me to We campaign, she and her fellow volunteers are making and selling custom-designed bracelets for $10 each. She originally set a goal of making and selling 50, but with the extra help, she expects to have close to 150, hoping to raise as much as $1,500. “What impresses me most about this,” said Toth, “is that this isn’t teacher-led. This is all her.”
Jimena says the project has changed her life – and her career aspirations. Until this project came along, she never really knew what she wanted to focus on for a career. “Now I have something I can be passionate about,” she said. “I want to make an impact.” Jimena is interested in working with UNICEF or the United Nations and wants to find a university that can help her reach that goal. Toth has written her a letter of recommendation. “Ultimately, she talks the talk and walks the walk.” Toth stated he’s been fortunate to interact with Jimena.
“Going back to Mexico every summer,” she added,” “I realize just how lucky I am.”