I have a feeling this is the start of something new. What to write about? I decided to simply tell my story, which shows how my husband and I live and breathe the girleffect everyday.
We are a couple living in NYC, working in the fashion industry, I’m American and my other half is Spanish. Why are we here today & involved in the girleffect? We have an amazing friend who traveled through India and started working with a girl’s home 10 years ago. He constantly told us about his experiences and always invited us to go. Due to what I think was our own ignorance and very busy lives, we never made it. Until 2008, when we finally packed our bags and traveled through India, what a different world we saw! After traveling around for 2 weeks we took the last 2 days to visit a girl’s home in West Bengal, outside of Kolkata, where 140 girls lived. These girls were rescued from the streets and given a chance at a better life. As you can imagine, our lives were changed from that day forward. We made a direct connection with the girls in this home that has only grown stronger with time. These girls helped open our eyes to the extreme poverty that exists and the inequality towards girls everywhere around the world.
How could it be that a couple like us began friendships with such little girls, all the way on the other side of the world? It takes a day and a half to get there and they are 10 hours ahead of us. How were we making this work? Our friends could not believe the stories we were telling them. To give you an idea:
One girl was a servant at the age of 3. She polished silverware for a wealthy family, continuously mistreated, and only given the scraps of food left over from her master. Now she was 18 in school, and I was talking to her about her dreams in life.
One girl lived under a bridge until she was brought to the home at age 6. She never slept in a bed, or had a decent meal, or even wore shoes for that matter. She roamed around the streets. Now she is 17, enrolled in a tailoring class, and we are discussing buying a sewing machine, and placing her in a part-time job.
One girl lived at the bus station with her mother and brother since the day she was born. Her meals consisted of what her mother begged for or picked out of the garbage. She was born malnourished and premature, and by 4 years old was infested with parasites. After the proper medical care & rehabilitation, she is a healthy 8 years old, happy as a little bee and in class 3.
Can you imagine what it feels like after a 50 hour work week, going to a chic restaurant on the lower east side with friends, and coming home only to get on the phone and start talking to these girls.
We could not keep up with who told us what. Fast forward to a few more visits, and personally enrolling the first girl in a prestigious university… we were feeling like parents. Were we parents, aunt & uncle, friend, sister or brother???? We realized we were all of this and more.
The reality is, we made a connection. We connected with these girls on a very personal level. A level that very few westerns have a chance to ever do. This connection made us think harder, work harder and yearn for more. To think we were not sleeping because one of our girls was so sad about her mother’s poor heart condition. We were concerned about another girl’s older sister who delivered a stillborn baby. We were concerned about the girl who’s mother would not let her come back to the home, because she felt she had enough education and it was time to get married (at 15). Another girl went home and got caught with a boy. Well, you can imagine… she never came back and we were told the families decided to arrange their marriage. What do we do with all this information? Maybe all the personal connections over a four-year period were really leading us to another calling. We have been direct witnesses of the unfairness of life in the underdeveloped world. Your place of birth predetermining your life potential.
There are 250,000 children living in extreme poverty in the streets of Kolkata. 60 million girls living in the developing world who do not attend primary school. We have not even touched the tip of the iceberg. How can we help empower girls to help give them the chance to live a life to their full potential?
The search began…..we rolled up our sleeves. Many late nights spent online. Little did we know there were so many organizations out there that were working for the same cause. So, we jumped on the wagon and started speaking more about “the girls” We had to create a website, learn about social media.
We now follow every movement and word of the Girl effect, Girl up, Room to read, Every mother Counts, and so on. We attend lectures, and read books. We have so many projects up our sleeves, especially with arts and crafts and linking commence & philanthropy together. We are speaking with our fiends to build awareness and ask them for help. The jewelry designer, the graphic artist, the event planner etc. We had no idea that the girl effect would spread the way it is.
So, all I can say, is when you are not sure what to do, stay close to these organizations that are leading the cause. Follow them, talk about them, and get creative. These girls do exist and they do need us. It really is not that difficult. If you had the chance to connect like we did, you would likely feel the need to yell from the rooftops to urge people to join the most important conversation on the planet. At the same time you would realize the “The world could use a big kick in the pants”.
Thank you to the girl effect and Tara Sophia for giving us the voice to tell our story & hence we have launched The Girl2B Foundation.
Christine & Alfonso