Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined hundreds of teen girls at a rally in Los Angeles on Friday to raise awareness and funds to help adolescent girls in developing countries around the world.
They told me that they wanted to make girls in other countries happier. They wrote letters to their sisters, telling them to stay strong. And they met a Queen.
The Marlborough School gym was buzzing on Friday afternoon with teen and pre-teen girls from 20 area middle and high schools. Arriving from public, private, and charter schools in the Los Angeles area, these girls joined together to kick off the Girl Up "Unite for Girls Tour," launching a movement of girl power across the country to help their peers in developing countries.
"I was shocked when I learned that some girls in developing countries are in arranged marriages as early as 4 or 5 years old. I think that is so terrible. That shouldn't be happening anywhere," said Ann Marie, a senior at Marlborough School, in an interview with me at the rally. "It's great that Girl Up is aware of this, and is encouraging other girls to get involved and help change this."
Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, was developed to give American girls the opportunity to express their compassion for adolescent girls in the developing world. These programs provide girls the ability to go to school, see a doctor, access clean water, and stay safe from violence.
I was really impressed with the depth of connection the girls at the rally were making with their peers living thousands of miles away. These girls were truly moved by what they were learning and felt wholeheartedly that they could make a difference.
"We are so proud that the United Nations Foundation has launched Girl Up to give girls in America an opportunity to become global leaders themselves, and then in the meantime be supporting their sisters overseas," said Elizabeth McKee Gore, Executive Director of the United Nations Foundation, in an interview with me before the rally. "Just in the short two months since we've launched this campaign we've already seen over 5,000 girls step up and say they want to lead by already donating their time, their money, and their voice."
Take Olivia, for example, an 11-year-old girl from Larchmont Charter in Los Angeles, who told me she was shy. But when I asked her what she was most excited by at the event, she lit up and said: "I am excited about seeing what I can do to make these girls in other countries happier." She then added, "I want them to know that I will do the best I can to make things different for them."
At the rally, the girls traveled through an interactive display, with a passport in hand, to learn about what girls their same age are going through in Malawi, Guatemala, Liberia, and Ethiopia, and how they can support them.
At one station, girls were invited to write letters to their peers in Liberia. Audrey, a ninth grader at Marlborough School, told me: "I wrote a letter to a girl in Liberia and told her not to lose hope and to stay strong because, while she might be going through really hard times, if she stays strong she will be able to get through it."
As many of these girls may not get to go overseas to learn firsthand what it is really like for their peers, the Unite for Girls Tour aims to raise their awareness by bringing them information that is otherwise is not part of their everyday curriculum.
For example, at another station, Sarah, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, learned that a girl her age in Malawi can't go to school because she can't afford a school uniform. When Sarah learned that she could give five dollars to help this girl in Malawi get a uniform, and that this in effect, could change her life, Sarah gave what Girl Up calls a "High Five." She donated five dollars.
These small moments before the main event gave me such great hope for the possibilities and potential that the Girl Up campaign has to offer.
Then things got even more energized. The buzz grew louder. Girl Up Global Advocate, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, arrived at the rally.
Dressed in white, looking radiant and like the powerful feminine leader that she is, Queen Rania took the stage: "I know I've got the right crowd to talk to about a crisis that is unraveling in our world today. It's a crisis affecting million of girls -- girls your age -- and how they are robbed of their rights, their dignity, and their futures every single day." She explained: "I want to talk to you about how you can reach out and help raise them up."
Queen Rania: Are you ready to help?
The girls: "YES!"
Queen Rania says that when a girl is educated, it has cascading effects. "If we can give girls even the smallest chance, girls can make the biggest change."
Queen Rania invited girls to visit GirlUp.org, and do the following:
1. Take five minutes to learn about the issues that girls face in the developing world.
2. Share five facts through your social networks: Tweet, Facebook, and blog.
3. Send the Girl Up campaign's Manifesto to five people, asking for their support.
4. Give $5 or more to provide school supplies or a doctor check-up for a girl.
5. Host a Girl Up fundraiser to raise money for the Girl Up campaign.
"Show the world that girls can make a difference." -- Queen Rania
"If we give these girls here in the United States a chance to give back, to donate, to use their voice, or just go to their school and say 'I care about this,' we might see a new generation of what we are calling "Philanthro-Teens," said Elizabeth McKee Gore.
The Unite for Girls Tour will be visiting cities across the United States to educate and energize girls to take action in support of their sisters overseas.
I keep thinking of what Jules, a senior at Marlborough School, said to me when I asked her what message she wanted to impart to girls her age in developing countries: "I want them to know that we are the same, and we are not as far from them as they may think."
To support the Girl Up campaign and learn more, go to GirlUp.org.
All photos by Howard Pasamanick (except final photo by Tabby Biddle).
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a writer/editor dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls. Her work has been featured by The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, NPR, and other popular media. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.
Follow Tabby Biddle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tabbybiddle