A few months ago, I started to think about what it meant to turn 18 years old. I couldn't believe that my childhood would be over and I would become legal adult! I began to reflect on the past 18 years. I thought about all my dreams, friends, family, and successes. Then, I thought about all my aspirations for the future: to go to college, to get a job, to fall in love, and to have a family.
As I was making a mental list of my goals for the next 18 years, I realized that there are millions of girls my age who will never have the opportunity to fulfill their simple childhood dreams; the dreams I took for granted all my life. I thought about the girls who never got to finish secondary school, who never learned to read or write, and who were sent off to be married and pregnant by age 15. I thought about how we probably had the same dreams when we were little kids: to be academically successful, to be loved, to stay safe. The only difference between her and me is that she didn't have the opportunity to fulfill those dreams.
So, as my 18th birthday quickly approached, I decided that I would dedicate the special day to supporting my peers, the world's hardest to reach adolescent girls. The team from my non-profit, iCAREweCARE, came together to plan a mother-daughter fundraising tea for Girl Up, a campaign of the UN Foundation where I serve as a teen advisor. We tirelessly designed invitations, wrote speeches, and emailed our peers and their families.
Last week, on my 18th birthday, over 150 mothers and daughters joined us to celebrate girls around the world. They wrote letters to the girls we are helping and tried to carry the 40-pound jerry cans that girls in Malawi have to carry for eight hours a day. But most importantly, my community heard the stories of the girls we are trying to help. We heard about their lives, their dreams, and their unfair disadvantages. And then we learned how we could change everything. If we supported Girl Up, we could change these girls' lives.
By the end of the event, we had heard from Tamsin Smith (former president of (RED)), Nancy Conrad (president of the Conrad Foundation), and Gina Reiss-Wilchins (director of Girl Up). We had eaten chocolate birthday cake and watched a fabulous performance by University Prep's Xanadu cast. We had also raised over $25,000!
I am beyond thrilled to say that the end of my childhood was marked by giving thousands of girls the childhood that they have always deserved.
Visit www.girlup.org to join our efforts and give a "high-five" to change the life a girl.
Follow Priyanka Jain on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iCAREweCARE1