"More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century."
-- Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
When I was 12, I read a book that changed my life. In the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn laid out the gory details of sex trafficking, female genital mutilation and other atrocities facing millions of girls and women around the world. I was sheltered from all of this in my well-to-do private school on the North Shore of Chicago. Like many of my peers, I was ignorant of the atrocities that these girls my age endure around the world. I had never wanted to speak up or voice my opinions. I wanted to fit in (a challenge as a 6-foot, 15-year-old girl) and to minimize conflict. This changed after I saw my mother reading this book with her hand over her mouth, saying, "I cannot imagine surviving this." After reading it, I vowed that my mission in life was to right this shocking wrong around the world.
I had never heard of issues like sex trafficking and obstetric fistulas, let alone how prevalent they are. I couldn't believe that so many girls and women suffered and the rest of us let it continue. I could not live with myself if I did not make a difference. I began researching ways I could help and I found the United Nations Foundation Girl Up program, created to mobilize teen girls in the United States to raise money and awareness for girls in developing countries. It strives to give girls around the world the opportunity to be educated, healthy and safe, while positioning them to be the next generation of leaders. I applied to their Teen Advisor program and was selected to be one of 14 Girl Up ambassadors, officially representing the campaign.
Through Girl Up, I was able to find my voice. I learned that my words can have an impact. If I didn't take action, who would? I spoke on stage at the United Nations, in Washington, D.C., in San Francisco and Chicago. I launched a Girl Up program and club at my school. I organized a series of school events, including presentations, letter writing campaigns, bake sales and a walk-a-thon, raising nearly $40,000 for the United Nations Foundation campaign.
I was constantly amazed by the eagerness of my peers to get involved and learned that we all have a part of us that wants to make a difference. It often just doesn't know how. It is so important that organizations start to target youth because we are the ones who will be the leaders of the next generation, and even of this generation! We have the power to make a change but often times, we just need that little nudge in the right direction.
I am now working with the Somaly Mam Foundation to help empower the victims and survivors of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. There are 2 million women and girls enslaved in the sex trafficking industry worldwide, each with a different story and struggle. The Somaly Mam Foundation is working to rescue and empower these girls and gives them the support that they need to become the change agents in their own lives. Though I have only been involved with the organization for a short time, I am constantly in awe of Somaly's never ending love to the girls she saves and the world around her. I often think to myself that they are girls just like me, with the same dreams and goals that I have, but because of their past they often feel they are not worthy of having the future they wish. SMF is working to change that. I am working with the Somaly Mam Foundation because no girl should ever have to suffer the rape and abuse that so many do in the hands of pimps around the world. No girl should have her dreams stolen by brothels. I strongly encourage you to read Somaly Mam's book, The Road of Lost Innocence, to learn more. In addition, I am working to raise money for SMF for the RaiseForWomen Challenge. If you would like to contribute the work of this incredible organization you can visit my fundraising page.
It can be incredibly overwhelming thinking about the millions of people who need help. It can often prevent one from taking action. If you truly want to make a difference, don't think about how you can completely eradicate sex trafficking, eliminate poverty... focus on your ability to change one life at a time. By changing one life, and then another, and another you can slowly chip away at these larger issues. I strongly believe a ripple effect evolves. We have the ability to work together and change the world. Most importantly, if we harness the power of today's youth, we can tackle some of the world's major issues. No words capture the essence of philanthropy than Gandhi's, "be the change you wish to see in the world." If you want something to change, take action and change it!