Last Thursday I was sitting in math class while simultaneously on twitter. What can I say? I am a multi-tasker. I saw that the organization, Half the Sky had recently undated its tumbler, which is a simpler version of a blog where you post mostly pictures and some text. There was an advertisement for a contest to win two tickets to a pre-screening of the documentary, Half the Sky, and a discussion with the author and journalist, Nicholas Kristof, actress, America Ferrara, and two advocates featured in the film. Did I mention that this was in New York? And did I mention that the event was in the coming week? All you had to do was enter your email address, and I did.
About a month ago I became a campus ambassador for the Half the Sky movement, and for those of you who do not know about Half the Sky, it is a research based book, written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn which has been turned into a documentary, which focuses on the women turning oppression into opportunity worldwide. The documentary follows celebrities like Diane Lane, America Ferrera, Meg Ryan, and Olivia Wilde as they venture into the developing world with Nicholas Kristof. These women go into the brothels of Calcutta where they meet 13 year old forced prostitutes, they see the three year old girl that has been raped in Sierra Leone. They also see the progress that is being made by local women fighting these injustices.
As a campus ambassador my job is to raise awareness about the status of women in our world and to move people in our community to action. Get ready, Jackson! Nation Public Television is showing the documentary October 1 and 2 at 8pm central time. Millsaps is hosting a screening of Half the Sky on Monday at 7:45 in Academic Complex 215.
So I entered my email address into this contest. I enter my email address to win many things like free t-shirts, free trips, free music, and most of the time my odds of winning are so low that I forget about the contests seconds after entering. I forgot in the same way for the Half the Sky promotion.
Two days later I got an email saying I had won. What??? So, a few days later I was on a plane to New York. Thursday night was the event, and with the help of some awesome women from Half the Sky, I was able to meet Nicholas after the film; he asked about what we were doing at Millsaps for our movement! He was so personable and kind- it was obvious that he cared deeply about the message of Half the Sky and that he was working tirelessly to see justice brought for women in the world.
Shaking the hand of a man who is on the cutting edge of development was incredible, and it was an honor to tell him about the passionate people in Jackson who are helping this movement happen.
After talking with Nick for a few minutes I met Urmi Basu, an advocate for girls in Calcutta, India. She is featured in Half the Sky for her organization, New Light, which provides education for girls in the red light district who would otherwise be sold into prostitution. She is beautiful and strong. In her traditional, colorful sari and shining her bright, brown eyes, she exuded passion and peace. It was humbling to be in her presence. We sat together and she shared her hopes for New Light: “I want to build a flower shop for the girls to work in, and I want to build a home for these children.” She needs funds to make these dreams into reality.
Through her organization, Urmi is literally changing the status of girls and women in her community. When she convinces a family to send their daughter to school instead of sending her to a brothel, she is not only changing the life of that individual girl, but she is offering hope a new reality to hundreds of families who are faced with the same choice. School or the sex trade. Once that girl is sent to school, she is more likely to master skill and obtain a good paying job. She is more likely to be able to choose when she marries. She is more likely to break the cycle of poverty.
Feel like helping this movement? So did I. The next days were filled with meetings with women, all of whom I admire greatly, who are working to engage this country in education and action for women.
My last meeting of this whirlwind trip was with Maz Kessler. This New Yorker from the UK has started an online crowd funding organization through Women Deliver called Catapult. She created this organization in response to the gross underfunding of women’s organizations world wide. So here is how it is going to change the world: When someone goes to Catapult.org, they choose what issue they feel most passionately about relating to women and girls. Is it gender based violence? Education for girls? Innovation? You decide. The site then shows you a list of projects going on around the world that are directly impacting that issue. And you can fund your chosen project wherever in the world it might be. This innovative approach is making giving easy, fun, and effective.
The reality that hit me this weekend is that I too often glamorize the aid world. When I read stories of women making great impact like Urmi, or Maggie Doyne, or Edna Adan, they become like celebrities without need. I am endlessly inspired by them, but I did not realize until recently that with that inspiration comes an obligation to give. It is not enough to hear the stories of innovative change makers and to appreciate the good they are doing in the world. We must give because the reality is that most projects working to uplift women and girls in the world are egregiously underfunded. This message became clear when looking into the eyes of Urmi as she earnestly shared her dreams for the girls in her community and as we both teared up at the incredible task she faces. Like Maggie Doyne, founder of Kopila Valley children’s home and school, shared at the Social Good Summit this past week, “The end of poverty is going to happen in our lifetime is we invest in children,” if we invest in girls and women.
I cannot wait to share Half the Sky with Jackson tomorrow night. We are about to start an incredible journey of empowerment. Buckle up.