Rihanna is known for churning out smash hits, strutting in outfits from her street-smart fashion line, and keeping it real while sitting courtside at the NBA Finals. But if footage from a new video is any indication, maybe her next role will be working as a math teacher.
OK, she probably won’t end up teaching subtraction full time. But watching the clip below and seeing how excited RiRi is in front of a classroom of eager students, it’s clear that she’s backing an ambitious goal: making 2017 the year of education.
263 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school.
To that end, the footage in the video comes from RiRi’s January visit to Malawi in East Africa, which she took with advocacy group Global Citizen as part of her role as founder of the Clara Lionel Foundation and as the Global Ambassador for the Global Partnership for Education. The nongovernmental organization works in developing nations to achieve the United Nation’s goal of universal education by 2030. According to a 2016 report from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, “Globally, 263 million children, adolescents, and youth between the ages of 6 and 17 are currently out of school.” GPE hopes to raise $3.1 billion to ensure those kids—and hundreds of millions more—are educated by 2020.
“I’m really here to see it—it’s one thing to read statistics—but I want to see it firsthand and find out all that can be done and where to start first,” Rihanna says to a room of experts and officials.
What Rihanna sees during her visit is that primary schools in Malawi sometimes have as many as 100 students in one room. Teachers might work without basic resources—such as chalk—and their impoverished students come to school hungry. “I don’t worry that I don’t eat in the morning because I believe in the future when I will be a businessman, I will have more food,” says one student in the video. But a government official tells Rihanna that, even though the students are smart, they “are dropping out because of poverty.”
The video also dives into the specific challenges girls in Malawi face while trying to get an education. Local officials explain that girls often walk long distances, endangering their physical safety, making them reluctant to go to class. And although they may finish primary school, girls are less likely to go to middle or high school because their parents arrange marriages for them, which, along with not getting to earn a diploma, could also affect girls’ health. In the video, one girl shares that “parents might choose someone who maybe has HIV/AIDS without getting that person tested.”
Overall, the sweetness of the kids in the video steals your heart—particularly toward the end when the boy who wants to be a businessman sings a song about how learning “together is powerful.” As for Rihanna, in February she was named Humanitarian of the Year by Harvard University. Not that Harvard is asking, but if she keeps advocating for issues like this, she has my vote for getting that award again.