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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
BY EMILY HARWELL, Berkeley Prep
One in seven girls in developing countries is married before the age of 15.
That’s right. By the time girls in the United States finish their freshman year in high school, girls like “Aamina” from rural Ethiopia are married, often to a much older stranger. Because Aamina was married at such a young age, she was forced to drop out of school (even though she was first in her class) and had given birth to two children by the time she turned 18. Aamina suffered serious medical complications from her pregnancies because of her body’s immaturity and the lack of health care in her area. But the suffering did not end there; her husband beat her because the babies were not boys.
Fortunately, Aamina found a doctor at a clinic sponsored by the United Nations, who prescribed medication that will help her continue to heal. She also participated in a girls’ leadership club, where she learned how to stand up for herself and to mentor other girls. Even though she couldn’t attend school full-time, the U.N. set up night classes so she could learn. With the skills and knowledge she gained from these programs, she will be able to give her daughters a better life.
Aamina is a composite of millions of girls across the globe helped by the United Nations and its fundraising arm, the United Nations Foundation. I serve as one of 16 teen advisers for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign that raises funds and awareness for U.N. programs that benefit girls in developing countries. As a teen adviser, I help the Girl Up staff with the campaign’s strategy for reaching its target demographic, American adolescent girls, and serve as Girl Up’s representative in Tampa. As part of Girl Up, I have given speeches, planned fundraising events, Skyped with girls from Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, met with congressional staffers and even mingled with celebrities such as Monique Coleman (who played Taylor in High School Musical) and Desmond Tutu, the renowned South African human rights activist.
However, the highlight of my tenure as a teen adviser has definitely been the biannual in-person meetings, where all the teen advisers gather for a weekend in different cities. At the meetings, we hear guest speakers, attend events, and participate in workshops relating to skills such as fundraising and public speaking. Getting to know such amazing girls as my fellow teen advisers has been an inspiring experience — seeing the changes they have created in the world has given me hope for the future.
Even if you aren’t a teen adviser, there are ways you can get involved with the campaign and make a difference in the lives of girls across the globe. Start a Girl Up club (a group of at least five people who take action to support girls worldwide by planning events and raising awareness) at your school or in your community. Use Facebook and Twitter to let your friends know about the hardships girls face in developing countries and what they can do to help. Plan an event at your school to benefit Girl Up. It doesn’t have to be complicated; even a penny war at your school or a bake sale can introduce hundreds of people to the campaign and help girls worldwide improve their lives. If you want to make a more personal commitment to the campaign, apply to be a teen adviser; check the Girl Up website in May for information about the application process (girlup.org).
Being a teen adviser has impacted me in an uncountable number of ways. I have gained the friendship of 15 incredibly talented girls from all over the country as well as the mentorship of the amazing Girl Up staff. I also have gained skills and knowledge that will serve me now and in the future.