A Peacemaking Project by Zoha S.
What is the injustice we are solving?
According to UNICEF, across the developing world, 26% of primary school aged girls are not enrolled in primary school. Furthermore, 65% of secondary school aged girls in those same countries are not enrolled in secondary school. This is detrimental to global women's literacy, which in turn yields adverse effects for child health, mortality, and nutrition as well as the economies of developing countries. Moreover, through research that we conducted in 2014 in Pakistan, many girls enrolled in school lack basic educational resources such as books and safe reading spaces. This means that even girls who graduate from secondary school often lack proficient literacy.
Our Compassionate Solution:
To solve this injustice of educational disparity between boys and girls in the developing world
we will address the lack of quality educational resources in public girls' schools
by building libraries with quality educational materials for underfunded girls' schools in developing countries.
Our Project Plan:
- Build sustainable libraries with quality learning materials for underfunded girls’ schools in developing countries.
- Improve female literacy.
- Improve digital literacy by integrating information and communication technology (ICT) and skills training into an existing and expanding network of HER libraries in Pakistan, Morocco, Liberia, and Kenya.
- Educate others about the educational needs of girls.
- Involve as many people in our project as possible, including people from local and abroad communities.
- Expand our project into more countries.
- Engage our beneficiary communities in the success and maintenance of their new educational resources.
- Make our libraries sustainable for future generations of students.
We will increase my / our compassion by...
Educating ourselves on the lives of our beneficiaries and understanding the rules and customs in the country we are working in. To achieve these goals, we will interview students more often over Skype, conduct research on their lives when we visit the host country to build the library, and learn from the organizations we partner with in the host country. We will also achieve these goals by conducting research online about the communities, countries, and people we work with. Through learning from both primary and secondary sources, we can increase our compassion towards the students and local people. In general, to be compassionate, Zoha and I must listen closely to others, observe our beneficiaries and the local communities we work with, seek to learn from others, and inspire the students using the library to be changemakers in their own community.
How will you show courage?
There were no bookshelves, no desks, and no chairs. The girls had to sit on dirty mats on the ground and all 1,600 students in the school shared the same 50-100 books available. So began the story of our first in library in Hair, Pakistan--a collaborative effort between committed students working in the U.S. and supportive partners working overseas. Locally, HER student clubs raised $2,500, collected 3,000 books, and arranged shipping. In Pakistan, we collaborated with a local NGO to identify the library location, facilitate construction of bookshelves, desks, and chairs, and train the teachers how to maintain the library. To celebratory cheers, we opened the library in March 2016. The process described above made an incredible impact, but it also took a significant amount of courage to implement. Zoha and I illustrated courage when we took the first step in the process of creating a library, even though people doubted us because of our age, when we worked with countries outside of the U.S. and had to work with people who had a very different lifestyle from us, and when we continued to push on with our work despite the many obstacles we encountered, such as not having enough money, not being old enough to qualify for 501(c)3 status, and having trouble shipping the books.
How will you collaborate with others?
Our mission depends upon, and benefits from, collaborating with others. As it says on our website, “Every person regardless of background or circumstance has the potential to make change for others.” We believe anyone can start a book drive, organize a fundraising event, or make a small donation to support a library. Through the activities of our local HER clubs, we have created a growing community of people who are passionate about girls’ education. To involve other young people as leaders in making a difference, we will continue to expand our network of HER Clubs. In addition, as young social entrepreneurs, supported by experienced mentors, we have learned how to develop business plans, budgets, and grant proposals, how to market our venture to donors, and how to incorporate feedback. Most importantly, as cofounders we have learned to work well together by listening to each other’s ideas. We also seek to partner with other young Changemakers involved in similar work, such as Books for Bedtime, Books and a Blanket, and Students for Scientific Literacy. On a larger scale, we are exploring collaborations with Room to Read, https://www.roomtoread.org/, the International Book Project, http://www.intlbookproject.org/, the Gates foundation Global Libraries, http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Global-Libraries, and the U.S. Peace Corps’ Africa Library Project and their Sustainable Library Development project.
How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)
We measure our impact by a girl with a book and a dream! More specifically, by the number of people that benefit from our libraries, the number of libraries we build, the number of people that are involved with HER to help create the libraries, and the amount of money we raise. Most important, we gain feedback from our beneficiaries. For example, we skyped with the girls from our first library in Pakistan and here is what they had to say: “We love the books,” “The library is a good idea,” “We like to sit here,” “Our favorite books are the Spiderman books!”
- Create HER clubs at our school, Sidwell Friends School, and in the DMV and abroad. The mission of the HER club is twofold. First, to promote an understanding of girls’ education initiatives. For example, this past year we showed the movie “Girl Rising”. Second, to conduct fundraising events and book drives to support the mission of HER.
- Collect books. We collect books for all ages in English and in the school’s local language. We have collected over 20,000 books for the 13 libraries we have built.
- Transport books to host country. After the books are collected and sorted, we transport them to Pakistan via a military aircraft facilitated by the Pakistan Embassy in D.C. or to another country through our partner, “The Orphan Grain Train”.
- Fundraise money to build the libraries. We solicit donations through crowd-funding and promoting HER at local events. For example, this past year we set up a booth and sold student-made crafts at the Alexandria Country Day School's Country Market.
- Construct the library. Abroad, we hire a local carpenter to clean, paint, and build desks, chairs, and bookshelves for the library.
- Work with students and teachers at the school to unpack and organize the books by language, genre, and grade.
- Hire a local professional librarian to train the teachers how to catalog the books and maintain the library.
- Create an art station. For each library we purchase art supplies and create a small art station.
- Put the finishing touches on the library as it is nearing completion!
How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?
In the summer of 2018, we opened one library in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco (in collaboration with the Atlas Cultural Foundation) and one library in Islamabad, Pakistan (in collaboration with the Pakistani Air Force Women's Association). For two years, HER had been working with the Atlas Cultural Foundation to build a community library in the village of Amezray, located in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In August of 2018, against the stunning background of juniper trees, tall rocky mountains, and historic Berber architecture, Hannah and Zoha were in Amezray organizing the library with community leaders. The library holds custom-built bookshelves, desks, and chairs, over one thousand books in English, French, and Arabic, and a variety of art supplies. Led by four fully trained community leaders and teachers, the library will be utilized by three local schools as well as the village’s women’s group. The group hosts writing and reading workshops to empower local mothers and young women. Students who undergo tutoring programs led by the Atlas Cultural Foundation will also use the library resources to accelerate their learning and improve test scores. Working locally and hands-on with the community in Morocco and Pakistan, has allowed us to understand the communities we are working with. We are now able to better address their needs and understand our beneficiaries. We want to listen to their perspective and their concerns, so we can create libraries and provide other resources that would be most helpful for them.
How did your community change as a result of your project?
Three years ago, motivated by the belief that all girls deserve a quality education and all girls deserve access to one of the most basic educational tools - books - we co-founded HER - a non-profit organization (NGO) dedicated to building sustainable libraries with quality learning materials for underfunded girls’ schools in developing countries. Meeting as new ninth graders at Sidwell, we quickly discovered a shared passion for girls’ education. We recognized our own education was a privilege that bears the responsibility to give back, and the challenges of women and girls in Zoha’s family inspired us to act. Her aunts, who had been deprived of a basic education, were raising children without the necessary skills to give them a successful lifestyle, and their girls, like us, were excited about learning, but had no resources or support to go to school. Just as Zoha and I discovered a shared passion and decided to work together to make a positive difference in the world, we now see many young people we have worked with eager to accomplish the same goal. Many people who have helped us with book drives, are members of our HER clubs, or are members of organizations we collaborate with, have now become their own social entrepreneurs as a result of their experience helping to create libraries with HER.
How many people were impacted by your project?
In addition to those directly impacted, are there additional people you feel were indirectly indirectly impacted or reached? If so, how many? (This might include people who read about your project, families of people that attended your workshops or received services, etc.)
We have impacted around 15,000 students, we collaborate with organizations, which amounts to around 2,000 people, and 3,000 people have been members of our HER clubs, donated books, or helped us with fundraisers.
How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?
We learn about the country and people when we go to the host country to build the library, we skype with the students to learn what we can improve about the library, and we did our own research in 2014 in Pakistan about the lack of quality education for girls’ in Pakistan.
What did your team learn?
As young social entrepreneurs, supported by experienced mentors, we have learned how to develop business plans, budgets, and grant proposals, how to market our venture to donors, and how to incorporate feedback. Most importantly, as cofounders we have learned to work well together by listening to each other’s ideas.
What challenges did your team overcome?
The largest difficulty we have faced over the past two years is our inability as minors to apply to the IRS for 501c3 status, a tax-exemption code that applies to organization’s expenses and monetary or in-kind donations. Alternatively, we are in the process of seeking 501c3 fiscal sponsorship from a larger, trusted non-profit organization. The required documentation and legal oversight is difficult and has significantly slowed our intake of donations. Nevertheless, we continue to fundraise and pursue other means of financial support. The Power of Youth Challenge is an incomparable opportunity to receive this financial support as well as the mentorship to help us continue our journey.
How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?
Our mission depends upon, and benefits from, collaborating with others. As it says on our website, “Every person regardless of background or circumstance has the potential to make change for others." We believe anyone can start a book drive, organize a fundraising event, or make a small donation to support a library. Through the activities of our local HER clubs, we have created a growing community of people who are passionate about girls’ education.
What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?
We urge people looking to start a peacemaking project to remember suffering will not wait to be addressed, so youth like us should not wait until we ‘grow up’ to use our privilege in the service of others. Letting age become an obstacle to higher achievement will only prevent global equity from becoming a reality. We are honored to be considered for this challenge among such inspiring youth, and we aim to use this opportunity to forge relationships and make a deeper impact.