It's early morning in Assam, India. Like a flock of bright birds, women in their colored sarees move up and down the rows of tea plants, gently snipping tender leaves with their calloused fingers. Among them is Mariyam, a ten-year-old girl. She works beside her mother and sister in the fields every day. She does not attend school, she does not have a computer or television, own a bicycle or a cell phone. She makes just enough money to help her family survive—and she is already engaged to be married.
Mim is always hungry in her Ethiopian village. Her family lives in a traditional hut with no electricity or running water. She and her sisters carry water from a nearby stream and use wood fires to cook their meals and bake their bread. Their few cows sleep in the house with them at night. Mim is only thirteen, but she is no stranger to death. She has lost two siblings and many neighbors to malaria.
Selena lives on the streets of Mexico City. She sleeps in a large cardboard box on a rooftop. She rummages through trash for household objects and discarded clothing, and begs for food or money outside the walls of her local school. She is nine years old. Her family beat her and tried to force her to beg and bring back money. She decided she could beg on her own, without the beatings—but there's a good chance she will end up sexually exploited.
Harsh as these stories are, they represent reality for girls in many countries. Fortunately, some organizations are learning that the way to affect profound cultural change in a region is by investing in its female population.
Get the Facts:
There are many ways to help improve the life experiences of girls and young women. Organizations that provide support programs for girls and women offer an amazing variety of choices to which you can donate.
You know the old saying, "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime"? Well, when it comes to women, "Teach a girl to fish and she'll teach the rest of her community."
Studies have shown that when it comes to money, females are much more likely to find ways to nurture their families and their community, rather than spend the money on themselves. Micro-loans are used to encourage home businesses like growing crops, raising ducks or goats, tailoring and sewing. Typically, your donation joins others to create the loan. Girls like Mariyam could quit the tea fields and create their own incomes at home, with family members. And as the loan is paid back, it is re-loaned again and again to help dozens of women and their families in the same country for years to come.
Helping to buy a bicycle for a girl in Laos or Cambodia, for example, means that a girl who lives too far from a school—or who risks abuse by walking to school—can receive an education. Educational aid and shelter programs in Mexico mean girls like Selena can find a safe place to sleep and attend the local urban school instead of begging outside its walls.
An insecticide-treated malaria net (costing approximately $5) means an Ethiopian girl like Mim can avoid a disease that kills 2,000 children a day.
Organizations that offer girl-focused programs:
As a grandparent, you are uniquely placed to compare and contrast your granddaughter's life with those of girls in other countries, and to help her feel empowered with both knowledge and opportunities to assist her global peers. Take time to acquaint yourself with some of the above programs and the stories they tell. Have an open discussion with your granddaughter on the issues and how she perceives the role of girls in today's society. Perhaps you can plan to donate to something—together or in her name—and initiate a vital, lifelong awareness of how we all can make a difference by investing in the girls of the world.
Cindy Rink is the Executive Producer for Hearts For Hearts Girls®, whose mission is to "empower girls to become agents for change." Every Hearts For Hearts Girl doll purchased creates a donation to support regional programs for girls and children around the world and in the US. Learn more at hearts4heartsgirls.com and playmatestoys.com. Hearts For Hearts Girls is a registered trademark of Playmates Toys, Inc.
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