Here’s the setting: I’m sitting on the bus, speaking in English to a fellow Fellow, who is seated next to me. Across the aisle, a ten-year-old girl has her eyes glued to me. Everything about me must have been intriguing–the language I was speaking that she didn’t understand, my fair skin, and the far away world I come from. During lulls in my conversation, I would look across the aisle to see if I still had my young friend’s attention. Sure enough, each time, the staring continued. She met my glance with a shy smile, and made sure not to blink so as not to miss a beat. After a while, she summoned up the courage to spark conversation.
“What language are you speaking?”
I told her that my friend and I were speaking English and that we were from the United States.
“Is that another state in Brazil?”
I went on to explain that the United States is another country and that it was far away. Next, I asked her where she was from.
“Paripe,” she responded, and this time I was dumbstruck.
My new friend, Ana, lived in the same neighborhood as me. Here we were, in another part of the state, far from home, and one of my neighbors was across the aisle. This sparked my interest.
Ana and I continued our conversation for the remainder of the bus ride. She explained to me that she aspired to become a doctor, and that her dream is to open a community center in our neighborhood, Paripe, so that people will have somewhere to eat and sleep and study. She spoke precociously about the social ills evident in our neighborhood, which is located in the underserved periphery of Salvador da Bahia. Ana told me about her school, her friends, and her mother’s response to her ambitions.
“My mom tells me I shouldn’t dream so much. She tells me to go outside and play with my friends instead.”
I told her the opposite. I asked Ana to promise to me that she would never stop dreaming, and that she would do her best in school so that she could open up her community center when she gets older.
Ana, and millions of girls like her, are the key to global economic development. In a world where poverty is a reality not only in far away lands, but also the neighborhood Ana and I live in, economic development lies in the hands of girls empowered through education. Educated women leaders are testaments to the economic power that lies in our hands–in the hands of women and girls worldwide. Educated girls have brighter futures. They have fewer kids, give birth at a later age, have higher self-esteem, invest in their families, and function as contributing members of a nation’s economy. A country’s economy cannot function effectively without the participation of half its population. By empowering girls through education, we have a means for fighting poverty and aiding economic development.
The Girl Effect Campaign is an effort launched by the Nike Foundation in order to combat global poverty by way of empowering young girls. As a Global Citizen Year Girl Effect Champ, I serve as an ambassador to the movement, simultaneously acting as a storyteller, mobilizer, and leader, all while observing Brazil through a gender lens. In doing so, I have launched a project of my own focused on unleashing the Girl Effect within the community I work in. Serving as a facilitator for an all-girls English course, I have been delivering themed workshops focused on various areas of women’s leadership- from the representation of women in the media, to the importance of role models and mentoring, to goal setting strategies. By combining English materials with each workshop theme, the girls benefit not only professionally, but also personally, developing their language skills alongside their leadership skills. As college-aged Afro-Brazilian women from underserved communities, these girls benefit through skills-development, which maximises their potential, and unleashes the Girl Effect.
After all, the Girl Effect lies within us all. It lies within Ana— who I have confidence will grow up to become a positive force within Paripe, within girls like Malala Yousufzai, and within our little sisters around the world. With a good education, we become empowered. We reach our full potential, and thrive. And when we thrive, our economy thrives. This is the Girl Effect.