Today is International Youth Day. To celebrate, we interviewed two of our youngest ambassadors about why they support Women for Women International and why it is important for youth of all genders to participate in creating a better world for women.
When Mae Hoad, 16, was a baby, she was dropped at the doorsteps of an orphanage in China. Nine months later, she was adopted and moved to the United States but she always wondered why her mother didn’t keep her, until she met the woman who took care of her at the orphanage in February.
The woman told Mae about how she found her on the doorsteps of the orphanage and that it was probably because of the one-child policy that her birth mother couldn’t keep her.
“It was devastating to me that a woman’s right to her own child could be taken from her. That is why I was driven to Women for Women International’s work because I couldn’t imagine the range of discriminations that women face and I wanted to do something,” Mae says about why she joined the Women for Women International club at her school.
Today, Mae is a senior in Summit High School in New Jersey and she often reflects on the “amazing opportunities” she has had in life. She says that she recognizes that her life could’ve been a lot different if she grew up in China where she may not have had the educational and growth opportunities she has now.
“Recognizing how different my life could be makes me feel closer to women who don’t have the same opportunities and motivates me to support them in any way I can,” Mae says.
Mae and Sheila Lawrence are the new co-presidents of the WfWI club at their high school. The club was formed by Ellie Rogoff, 18, who recently graduated and is headed off to Brown University to pursue an education in public health focusing on maternal and women’s health. Ellie learned about WfWI through her mother, who is a supporter, when she was in the ninth grade and decided to form a club to mobilize her peers and raise awareness and funds for the organization. Through the club, Ellie and her friends have organized fundraising and awareness campaigns about WfWI at their school and galvanized students, teachers, and parents to support the organization. Together, Ellie and her club have been able to raise $1000 to support WfWI. The organization’s transformation yearlong program that equips women survivors of war with important life and business skills and knowledge about their health and rights and enables them to earn and save money and maintain networks of support.
“There were many clubs for great causes but they were all focused on issues in New Jersey or the United States. There was no club that focused on the lives of marginalized women in countries impacted by war or poverty,” Ellie says about what drove her to found the club.
She says the response to the club was largely positive. Teachers, the principal, parents and most students were on board, excited, and supportive. They participated in fundraising events like bake sales, spin classes, a car wash, and a Frisbee tournament organized by Ellie and her team. They also purchased WfWI bracelets the club made. The number of the club’s members has grown from 20 to 100 since Ellie formed it.
“There was a little bit of hesitation from boys at first, but we talked a lot about how empowering women is not something against men. It is about equality,” Ellie says.
After three years of leading the WfWI club at her school, Ellie already feels nostalgic about moving on to Brown University but she hopes to bring the club with her and knows that the club is in good hands with Sheila and Mae. Among other things, the new co-presidents plan to engage more ninth-graders and boys in the coming years and continue to expand their club’s work to support WfWI to help empower women survivors of war around the world.
For Ellie and her successors, supporting Women for Women International is about supporting women’s rights around the world and showing sisterhood and solidarity, but it is also about encouraging other people their age to get involved in causes they feel passionately about.
“I think it is so important to start young because you have this drive. You have so much excitement when you’re young and you can use that toward something positive. You can start small for example you can say “for my birthday I want to donate money to Women for Women instead of gifts.” Or even just by being informed about what is going on in our world and talking with your friends about it. There’s a lot of different ways to get involved it doesn’t have to be a huge enormous time commitment. Just start small and see how it goes,” Ellie says.
Are you interested in supporting women survivors of war through activities and clubs in your community? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.