For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. Submit your story to appear in the For the Win guest blog series.
Jessica Markowitz, a junior at Garfield High School in Seattle, Wash., founded Richard's Rwanda-IMPUHWE, a nonprofit organization that helps girls in Rwanda receive the education they deserve, when she was 11 years old. Jessica was recognized as a 2011 Hasbro Community Action Hero, an award recognizing outstanding young service leaders presented by Hasbro in partnership with generationOn, the global youth enterprise of Points of Light.
Five years ago I founded Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE, an organization dedicated to helping girls in Rwanda receive an education. The organization is creating a generation of leaders striving for a more equitable and educated world. We believe in empowering women through friendship and connecting cultures across the globe.
In 2006, my family hosted Richard Kananga, a Rwandan human rights advocate working with children whose lives were devastated by the genocide. As Richard spoke about the tragedy and the importance of rebuilding hope and forgiveness in the country, I was inspired and determined to find my own way to reach out to Rwandan girls my age. I began generating support from my local community, talking with fellow students and organizing bake sales and school supply drives.
I truly believe in letting our generation know we are the ones who need to make a change. I hope to increase awareness within our generation of global problems to amplify the message that we can take action to make the world a better place. As the future leaders of the world we are part of the solution. We face many pressing issues, and I feel an urgency to help motivate others. One of my responsibilities is to excite those who care about these issues to become lifetime activists. Community service becomes more meaningful if you serve with a purpose.
Today, Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE has expanded and now includes chapters in several Seattle high schools, on the east coast and in Rwanda as well! So far, Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE has sponsored 40 girls in rural Rwanda, providing school uniforms, supplies, health insurance and covering the cost of school fees. The heart of the organization’s success is due to the engagement of the girls on a much more personal level.
I’ve traveled to Rwanda five times and twice have led a summer cross-cultural service learning trip, where I was joined by 16 students from across the U.S. to teach English to the girls in Nyamata. Richard’s Rwanda-IMPUHWE has raised more than $125,000, although our efforts are about building and sustaining relationships, not just raising funds. I believe in the power of providing a fishing pole, not just the fish. It’s important for our generation to be excellent advocates for global education and spokespeople for social justice.
The connection between secondary students in the U.S. and Rwanda has been transformative for both groups - it is their first opportunity for cross-cultural exploration of people their age in different countries. Through on-going communication with the girls in Nyamata, through letters, Skype calls, blogging and exchanging art, we have motivated them to improve their English language skills and influenced youth empowerment. It truly takes a village, so I’ve learned to work hard on welcoming others to become engaged. Rwandan girls have learned to be empowered and part of the solution. The girls in the rural areas have decided that when they grow up they hope to help other girls in their community.
One of my personal goals is to create as much forward momentum as possible. As each young woman achieves a better education, it is our hope that her commitment to the project will be reinforced. She will turn around and pass on some of what she has received to those who come after, and thus create sustainability. It has been an honor serving as a Hasbro Community Action Hero and 2010 Parade Magazine All-America Service Team member. I hope to create a movement across the world, connecting, bonding and empowering youth to become leaders.
When you educate a girl, you educate the community.
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Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.