“I want to know what keeps you going,” First Lady Michelle Obama poses to one student while meeting with girls at R.S. Caulfield Senior High School in Liberia in an exclusive premiere clip from the inspiring documentary, We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World. “What do you think is different about you that you were able to overcome all those challenges and be as articulate and smart and inspiring as you are?” she asks.
Obama’s questions serve as one of the premises explored through the stories of several girls pursuing an education in the CNN Films documentary, which also features actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto alongside CNN journalist Isha Sesay. The women travel to Liberia and Morocco to speak with dozens of girls who unveil personal stories of the extraordinary challenges they surmount to go to school.
In the clip, student Raphina Felee shares one of the struggles girls in her community face with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Obama. “During the Ebola crisis, some girls lost their parents. Some lost their family members. Some even lost their entire family,” she says. “Most of these girls feel discouraged about life because they feel that they are no more important in society because of what happened to them and they don’t really have people to encourage them and tell them they are valued in society. Some really want to go to school, but they don’t have educational support.”
It’s one of many obstacles girls face around the world when striving to get an education that are addressed in the film. School is not free in many countries, and too often girls are devalued and their educations are not a priority. (There is also the growing threat of sexual assaults in the area.) More than 62 million girls around the world are not in school. Alongside the empowering accounts of the girls, the hosts also share their own personal narratives that inspired them to participate in the film.
The documentary stresses the importance of girls’ education as their potential and contributions to society are what ultimately strengthen communities and nations. The film is inline with the First Lady’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which seeks to break barriers to education for girls around the world. At South by Southwest earlier in the year, Obama promoted the initiative and unveiled the Diane Warren-penned “This is for My Girls” featuring Missy Elliott, Zendaya, Kelly Clarkson, Kelly Rowland, Janelle Monáe and others. Proceeds from the empowerment anthem benefit Let Girls Learn.
Directed by Tony Gerber and featuring Andra Day’s “Rise Up” as its theme song, the hour-long documentary will premiere in the U.S. via CNN on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. It also airs internationally in Asia, Europe and Africa on Tuesday to coincide with International Day of the Girl.