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Girls & Women

Michelle Obama & Meryl Streep Tell Girls ‘We Will Rise’ in New Documentary

CNN

In a small classroom filled with young female students in Liberia, 20-year-old Raphia Felee told the story of her own education — and the challenges facing her peers — to a captive audience.

During Liberia’s Ebola crisis in 2014, Felee was living with her aunt and uncle so that she could attend school in their village when her uncle became sick. He was resistant to getting medical help, but Felee, having learned in her biology class that he could spread the disease, insisted her be quarantined and receive treatment. Today, he is still living.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, visiting the classroom to learn more about the challenges preventing girls from receiving education in Africa, listened to Felee’s story, and Obama leaned forward to ask a question.

Read More: Michelle Obama and family head to Liberia, Morocco, and Spain to promote #LetGirlsLearn

“What keeps you going?” Obama asked.

“For me what really encouraged me is if Madame President can be strong, then I am a woman like her and I can be strong, too,” Felee said. “So I encouraged myself more to learn and put myself in the field of education so I can be more like her tomorrow in the society.”

The exchange was captured on film as part of the documentary “We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World.” The film highlights Obama’s trip to Africa with Meryl Streep and CNN Correspondent Isha Sesay and is premiering today and tomorrow to celebrate International Day of the Girl Child and Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative.

Read More: 13 Stories That Show How Women Are Treated Around the World

In addition to Liberia, Streep and actress Freida Pinto traveled to Project Soar in Morocco, a school for girls in the countryside that encourages them to stay in school as long as possible, since many stop pursuing their education after the age of 12 in Morocco, according to the film.

Streep listens to the girls stories and joins them as they go through their daily cheers:

“I am strong, I am capable, I am worth it,” they cheer. “Girl power!”

Obama’s Let Girls Learn, which started in 2015, initiative seeks to increase investment in girls’ education around the world. More than 62 million girls are not in school, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. The initiative and the documentary focus on the reasons many girls don’t graduate: cultural and familial pressures, economic pressure, and even biology — many girls skip school when they get their periods.

Read More: Michelle Obama Sings 'This Is for My Girls' on Carpool Karaoke

“As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve seen time and again how our girls are pushed to the bottom of their societies,” Obama said in a speech about her work that opens the film. “I can’t accept the barriers that keep them from realizing their promise. I just can’t walk away from them.”

“These girls are our changemakers, our future doctors, teachers, and entrepreneurs, our dreamers and visionaries who can change the world as we know it,” she said.

“We Will Rise” will premiere on CNN International on Oct. 11 in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and on CNN International in the U.S. on Oct. 12 at 9 p.m.