In many countries, children don't have the option of riding a yellow school bus to and from school. Instead, they must travel by foot, bike, bus, rickshaw, boat or other vehicle — often at great personal risk — for an education.
A new photo exhibit, "Journeys to School," which opened March 4 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, opens a window into students' experiences worldwide. The exhibition represents a collaboration between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Veolia Transdev and Sipa Press, which commissioned 18 photographers to document journeys to school around the world. Between November and December 2012, the photographers traveled from Nigeria to Thailand and Australia to the United States, to capture these moving images as they followed the footsteps of schoolchildren.
This original series of photographs portrays the difficulties many children still face today in receiving an education and shares some of their stories. Six-year old Fabricio Oliveira and his cousins ride their donkeys on an hourlong trek through the desert to reach the small village school in Extrema, Brazil. Each day, 6-year-old Elizabeth Atenio (pictured above) of Kibera, Kenya, one of the larger slums near Nairobi, embarks on a dangerous hourlong walk to school: about 20 percent of Elizabeth's schoolmates have been raped along the way, according to her teachers.
One of the adolescents featured in the exhibition, 14-year-old Santiago Muños from New York, travels over two hours to get to the Bronx High School of Science, a prestigious public school.
"I believe I can achieve anything if I work hard, and if I am well educated, I will receive a scholarship to college," said Muños, who wakes up at 5:10 a.m. to catch the 5:50 a.m. bus. "I didn't think my transportation is that difficult compared to students who live in war zones."
These children show that it is still possible to get an education despite the obstacles of poverty, gender inequality, social exclusion, natural hazards or conflict.
"I see each of these children as an inspiration for UNESCO's work to promote quality Education for All," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. "These journeys are a powerful argument to place education at the top of the international development agenda in the years ahead."
The photos in the exhibit and publication "Journeys to School" serve as a reminder of the need to ensure that children everywhere, no matter where they live, can attend school. After New York, the photo exhibition will travel for three years. It will arrive at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris next month before beginning its world tour. A publication with the same photos will soon be available in English and French.