*This is a guest post written by my 17 year old daughter who recently attended the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C.*
When I first heard of the opportunity to participate in the Girl Up Leadership Summit, I was very hesitant as I was not quite sure what to expect of the conference. I immediately knew that the organization’s primary goal was a good one as my mom, Amelia Old, had previously attended the Shot@Life Summit, another campaign for the UN Foundation. With some quick background research and helpful emails provided to us from Girl Up, I was quickly caught up on the issue at hand- young girls in the refugee crisis- and how more privileged girls of all ages would be able to lobby for a change.
On the very first day, my best friend, Allie, and I woke up early to prep for the day. We were extremely nervous as we were informed that we would be in a room of 300 other girls from around the world. Not to mention, we were in THE Washington D.C.:an intense and “down-to-business” kind of city! We soon arrived at the venue, the Ronald Reagan Building, and were greeted by many kind and smiling faces. I was handed a name tag and goody bag full of necessities for the week. I, among other girls, was definitely pleased to pick out an Alex and Ani bracelet! After we sat down, Allie and I were both able to take everything in. We introduced ourselves to our tablemates, all of whom were from different states. I think it is safe to say, I was pretty intimidated by how mature and knowledgeable they all seemed to be! They all made us feel very welcome, letting us know that we were in for a treat as this was, for some, the second or third year attending the Leadership Summit.
The day consisted of a variety of speakers, workshops, and information to teach the audience why we should be the voice of many under-privileged girls. Among the people to speak was Ashley Graham, a model and a beautiful body activist. She mesmerized the entire room with her powerful and moving speech about how one should love their body entirely. Graham did not exactly hone in on the refugee crisis, but rather the crisis that many teenage girls must go through- self-doubt regarding your body.
Another guest appearance (particularly my favorite) was a teenage girl from India, Abhilasha Damor. She is an active Peer Educator and a change leader under the Action for Adolescent Girls (AAG) Initiative in Kherwara block (India). Ultimately, she works to motivate out-of-school girls to join the club and to motivate them and their families to continue on education for the girls. It was truly inspiring to me to know that Abhilasha was forced out of school yet, she still went against the social norms of her area to better the girls in her community.
The workshops that occurred on both days were also very beneficial and helpful. On the first day, they specialized in the issues that many girls face. I attended a child marriage workshop that broke down the reality and statistics that girls encounter once they are forced into marriage. Most girls fall into their society’s wants and give up their education entirely. I was shocked and really considered my stresses versus the stresses of a less privileged girl. While I’m worrying about college and what must be done for that, girls from other areas are having to stress about caring for their husband and/or their children. Not only were these workshops a learning experience but they were also eye openers to how lucky I am to live in America. Then, on the second day, workshops were set up to help us through the process of meeting with congress. One workshop I attended helped me plan out my points in which I wanted to bring up to the congressmen by also reducing my nerves through group activities. Needless to say, all of the workshops that were designed were VERY well-thought and supportive.
The second day of the Leadership Summit dealt more with how to develop a voice for Girl Up’s cause. Through the workshops explained above and new and relevant speakers, I feel as though all girls were able to prepare properly for Lobby Day (Wednesday). Monique Coleman, from High School Musical, even spoke on this day. She took to the stage by talking about her life before her hit movie and informed everyone that they must step outside their comfort zone. I especially took this to heart as I once struggled with stepping outside my own comfort zone. Now, I would like to think I am new and improved “Sophia” for doing so. Jennifer Welter, the first female NFL coach, also spoke at the Summit. She gave us a pep-talk on, despite what obstacles you may face, never give up. One quote I will definitely take away would be- “We all get hit. It’s a part of life. But when you get back up, do it with attitude.’
On our final day, my state group and others were all escorted to Capitol Hill. Each group had the chance to meet with their states congressmen and ask for their support in our focus area for Education for girls in refugee settings. Our schedule consisted of meeting with South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s staff, Senator Tim Scott’s staff, Senator Lindsay Graham’s staff, and Georgia’s Rep. Tom Price’s staff. It would be an understatement to say it wasn’t nerve-wracking as my heart was beating a thousand beats a minute! Just walking into the congressmen’s office put me out of my comfort zone but I remembered Monique Coleman’s advice! It was such a relief, though, to be welcomed by such friendly smiles in each meeting. Each girl in my group took turns introducing the problem, followed by the “ask”- Please cosponsor Education for All and the Refugee Education Bill. These asks were designed to raise awareness to the issue and bring about educational opportunities for both girls and boys in refugee situations. I was very pleased by the staff member’s reactions and their interests in our call to action. I was especially thankful to Mick Mulvaney’s staff members as they were extremely kind and even gave us a tour around the capitol, led by a super cute intern!! I walked off of Capitol Hill feeling different; different in a way in which I was THE voice for these girls in other countries who deserve an education just as much as I do. I was THE one who rallied for their educational rights.
My trip to D.C. was definitely empowering in a way I now want to start up my own Girl Up Club at my high school. I was a part of a very special 3 days with so many other girls from around the world. They all shared love and determination towards wanting to help girls who do not have the same privileges as we do. It was special to be surrounded by future girl leaders who wanted to change the world in a positive way. To hear girls from India, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and even America talk about their desire to fulfill other girls dreams really touched me. I will forever remember this trip and cannot wait till The Girl Up Leadership Summit 2017!!!