The Advice Project - Empowering Young Women Around the Globe Via the Internet and Education
Last year I started editing an anthology called Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self (www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org), a collection of advice letters written by women around the world to their teenage selves. To date, women from over twenty countries have submitted their stories covering topics related to the female body, sexually transmitted disease, genocide and war, female genital mutilation and breast ironing, sexual identity and cutting and self-harm. Their letters have also discussed their ideas about beauty, following dreams, happiness and self-worth.
The reason I started Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self was simple: next year, my twelve-year-old daughter will be turning thirteen, an important “milestone” for girls around the world. The anthology will serve as a guidebook for not only my daughter as she enters womanhood, but it will empower girls by showing them how women worldwide have partnered problems they faced as youth with solutions.
Even before I started working on the Advice anthology, I knew that the success of the project would be contingent on creating a strong online community that could help form real-world relationships. Therefore, in August 2013, I launched www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org, a hub where visitors could read about the book’s contributors as well as a community where any teen girl or women with Internet access could share her story.
My goal for the anthology and website, however, was that they create opportunities to form connections between girls and women living in locations around the world. This work began with a series of writing, empowerment and global citizenship workshops and classes for teen girls and mothers in New York City, and more recently, in collaboration with Chi Yvonne Leina, an Advice contributor and founder of the Cameroonian-based organization, Gender Danger (www.genderdanger.webs.com), I’ve been developing an online series of classes based on the format of my New York classes that can be shared with a group of teen girls living in Cameroon.
Because most of the girls in Cameroon do not have Internet access in their homes, and because computer use is only provided to the boys in schools (administrators have unjustly proclaimed that girls would “steal” computers if they were given access), Leina and I have to figure out creative solutions. For now, for around $6.00 a month for each participant, girls will be able to use the computers during business hours at a local Internet café and will also be able to print out class readings and assignments.
A few years ago I led a workshop for New York City parents to train them how to become more effective partners in the education of their children by learning how to use a few online math programs. It became apparent that many of the parents needed to work from the ground up by first learning how to use a web browser and Google search tools and then, bit by bit, becoming more confident with their online skills until they had reached a proficiency adequate for using the math programs. Much as I did with this group of parents, Leina and I will be doing for the girls in Cameroon. The girls will receive training to ensure they are comfortable using the Internet, will be guided through the process of setting up the Gmail accounts necessary for receiving and sending communications about class, and will walk through how to watch the online videos.
What’s most exciting about the Advice and Gender Danger collaboration is that the girls in New York and Cameroon classes have been paired as writing partners. As such, they are expected to write each other bi-weekly letters sent via email that give each other insight into their lives. In addition, the girls in New York will be assisting to make the short online videos that will be shared with their partners. Together, writing partners will discuss ways to amplify their voices online by submitting pieces of writing to the Advice website. The first piece of writing posted to the website, submitted by New York student Destiny Vega, perfectly demonstrates an example of how a problem has been partnered with a solution (www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org/share-your-story/teen-readers-stories/i-...) While Destiny's letter addresses a personal issue, students in the next months will be urged to address global issues alongside their peers.
The collaboration between Advice and Gender Danger is the just beginning. This summer, I will be visiting Cameroon for two weeks to lead class members in an intensive writing and leadership workshop that will be built around the needs of the community.
Some of these teen students will have an opportunity to become youth leaders at the 2015 Advice Project Global Leadership Summit (www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org/2015-global-leadership-and-empowerment-s...). Open to teen girls and youth leaders around the world, participants will spend two weeks in the Peruvian rainforest examining global issues that affect women and girls, and will be given the challenge of developing programs they think will serve an international community. Held in an area of incredible biodiversity, the girls will learn about how climate change and deforestation is affecting local people, and will meet with a number of indigenous and mestizo for mini conferences about the topics affecting their lives.
Girls participating in the summit will be fundraising together, pooling resources so that all accepted applicants can attend. Although the summit is more than a year away, I’ve already opened the application process so that all participants will have plenty of time to raise funds. I absolutely do NOT want cost to be a hindrance. Therefore, the Internet once again becomes an important tool in helping the girls gain attention to this important leadership training opportunity.
The needs of the Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self project are great, but a recent sponsorship by Fractured Atlas means that I’m now allowed to receive contributions that are tax exempt and apply for grants previously out of reach. I’ve prioritized by targeted the areas of greatest need, which I hope will encourage folks to donate:
1. Scholarships for girls to be able to attend the 2015 Advice Global Summit.
2. Support for international programming (which would include the immediate need of paying the Internet café in Cameroon, but would soon also mean purchasing computers for Gender Danger that could be made available to girls and administrative costs such as putting together the video classes, flights and other program needs.
3. Monies for some girls who need to pay for passports and visas
4. Administrative costs to continue providing free or low-cost workshops and classes in New York City.
5. Funding to hire a film editor to assist in the editing of film footage for online classes.
In addition, I’m actively seeking donations of flight miles and airline sponsorships (particularly on Delta, United, LAN and American airlines).
None of the work the Advice Project is doing could be done without digital literacy and Internet access. I’m excited – so, so excited – to share news of the anthology, classes and international programming with you, and look forward to sharing even more as the girls have projects and work to share via the Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self website. I envision the educational component and international partnerships to grow, and invite all of you to visit the website, contribute letters and spread the word.
Below are a few resources you might be interested in learning more about:
Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self website: http://www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org
2015 Global Leadership and Empowerment Summit for Teen Girls (NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS!): http://www.advicetomy13yearoldself.org/2015-global-leadership-and-empowe...
Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self contribution-making page (through Fractured Atlas): https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=9855