10/10/2006 02:27 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Change the World Before Your 18th Birthday

I wouldn't describe myself as fearless. Hardly. I'm scared of a lot of things -- rejection, loneliness, failure. I think it's more of the fact that I've learned to put my fears aside; I've learned to walk in long strides, even when I'm not sure if the ground might give out beneath me. I've stopped taking the baby steps and started leaping. I may fall and tumble and have to get back up again, but it's much better than not trying in the first place.

I am the founder of Girls for Girls International, an organization dedicated to helping young women in developing countries gain access to the education that they need and deserve in order to grow up to be strong and successful women. I am also sixteen years old. At first, it seemed like an impossible endeavor. But with the support and determination of a committed group of classmates and friends, it all became possible.

It started with my wanting to do something great. I wanted, I still want, to make a difference in the world. So I approached a teacher and asked her if she would be interested in being the advisor for a new club at my all-girls school. I found out about an organization that looked really promising, Women for Women International. Their mission is to help women in war-torn countries recover, and, since I go to an all-girls school, I thought that it might be great to start a chapter of that organization at my school. It was suggested to me that I might look into building a girls' school in a country that doesn't usually educate girls. This option sent me down a new and very exciting path.

I had a sudden revelation about a week later. Lying in bed one night, it dawned on me that I didn't need to form a chapter of an already existing organization; I could form my own organization. Holding onto the desire to build a school and a nonprofit organization, I proceeded to spend much of my free time researching what countries were in the greatest need of girls' education. I contacted a colleague of my father's friend, who had worked with girls in Africa and started her own program in Kenya. Over the phone, I told her of my plan -- to build a school. I was very quickly shot down. I was told that it's near to impossible to start a school or program in Africa when you aren't actually in Africa. That really, I probably couldn't follow through with my plan. It was just too difficult.

That conversation definitely wasn't ego-boosting, but I didn't let it stop me. After all, I figured, it would be giving up to stop before I really began. Instead, as a group, we just reconfigured our plans. Instead of building a school, we decided that we would support an already existing one. We picked the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School, a school for AIDS orphans in Nyakagyezi, Uganda, and we started a pen pal correspondence between the girls in Girls for Girls and the students at Nyaka.

The next logical step in becoming a full-fledged nonprofit organization was filling out the 501(c)(3) form. Luckily, we found a lawyer who was willing to help us with it. But then we began to run into roadblocks, money being one of the largest.

But foundations wouldn't give us grants unless we had the 501(c)(3) status. It would be much harder to get any money unless we acquired the tax-exempt status. We had to do this, no matter what it took. In September, Girls for Girls International was an idea. Now, it's an organization. An organization with a mission statement, a website, and a Board of Directors. And it is thanks to our perseverance that we have gotten this far. If I had given in to the fear of failure, had backed down when something didn't work as successfully as I planned, we never would have had the opportunity to feel the joy that we felt when we printed Girls for Girls International's first official brochure.

Girls for Girls International is becoming something solely because my classmates and I imagined it. And we kept imagining it and imagining it and remembering that sometimes, on your way to the top of a mountain, there might be some rocks on the path. And through this project, I've discovered that I am willing to trip over those rocks; it just makes reaching the top seem all the more worth it. We are a group of girls determined to change the world, and, step by step, girl by girl, we are doing just that.

Next year, the students at the Nyaka AIDS Orphans School will be playing basketball on a court that we built. They will be reading books that we've bought and using mathematical sets that we've provided.

Their lives will be richer because of our gifts. But our lives have been enriched even more.
And where do we go from here? Haiti, of course. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, a country in which 80% of the population lives in poverty. Less than 30% of the children who enter primary school will reach sixth grade. Haiti also has the highest infant, under-five, and maternal mortality in the western hemisphere. We have been doing research and contacting schools, planning events and terrifying our parents with the idea of a field trip. We are expanding our membership and reaching out to other Los Angeles schools.

Sometimes, the idea of making a difference in a place as desperate as Haiti may seem near to impossible, but, as Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has."