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Girl Up to the Challenge
Posted 06/08/2017 02:10PM

Written by rising senior Allie Zehner (pictured back row, second from left)

Project 11. A time when Rowland Hall juniors are asked to narrow their passions and catalyze change within their community. Let me just say, not an easy task.

My biggest passions are dogs and chocolate, but those do not really lend themselves to Project 11. So, in brainstorming possible options, I immediately pondered the roles of school and education in my life: the insurmountable amount of information I have learned, the life skills procured, the doors opened. I realized that in the United States, school attendance is a dominant societal norm; however, in many countries around the world, girls, in particular, lack educational opportunities. I witnessed this inequity firsthand when I was fortunate enough to visit Senegal and spend time with Molly Melching, founder and CEO of nonprofit Tostan International.

I adamantly believe education should be a human right, not a privilege. But, what project could I work on that would seek to tackle this global issue? What project might engender even a small positive change? The answer came the moment I received an email explaining the Girl Up Teen Advisor Program.

Girl Up is a "for girls, by girls" campaign of the United Nations Foundation that aims to raise awareness around the problems adolescent girls face across the world. Specifically, Girl Up focuses on education, health, safety, leadership, and birth registration. With over 1,000 clubs worldwide, Girl Up works to create grassroots change by mobilizing youth across the world to become champions for the rights of adolescent girls.

When I received an email about this campaign, I saw that my passions directly aligned with their mission. So, I decided to enter the first round of applications to become a teen advisor. Once I passed the initial screening, I applied to the second round. I was ecstatic to finally hear that I was one of 21 girls chosen from hundreds of global applicants to represent Girl Up as a teen advisor.

Going into my term as a teen advisor, I had three goals: show my passion for the campaign, learn from the incredible teenage girls surrounding me, and find some way to make a difference. I would like to think that I successfully did all three.

I had my first conference call in June 2016, where I got to interact with the other 20 driven, inspiring, and empowering young women (not to mention the incredible Girl Up staff). Then, in July, I went to my first in-person meeting, the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. The first two days, I attended workshops on many topics, including intersectional feminism and how to pursue a career in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. I also listened to many unique speakers ranging from Kathy Calvin (president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation) to Rosie Rios (former treasurer of the United States) to Ashley Graham (model and body activist). On the final day of the summit, all of the girls took Capitol Hill by storm, attending meetings with members of Congress and lobbying for Girl Up's bill, Protecting Girls' Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act.

I came back a changed person. I became a young woman more comfortable with voicing her opinion, a young woman more confident in who she is and who she strives to be, a young woman ready to create change in her term as a teen advisor.

Over the next 10 months I participated in monthly conference calls and book clubs. I attended a second in-person meeting in Los Angeles; started a Girl Up club at Rowland Hall; hosted multiple fundraisers (both myself and with the school); scheduled an in-district meeting with US Rep. Chris Stewart; attended meetings with the staffs of Rep. Stewart, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Rep. Rob Bishop; and spoke at the Rowland Hall Community-Building Summit. I have learned invaluable skills in the areas of fundraising, advocacy, education, and leadership.

Although I am very sad as my term approaches its end, I know that my work with Girl Up will only increase in the future. I will continue to lead the Girl Up club at my school and will continue to champion the rights of adolescent girls. As the Girl Up staff says, "Once a teen advisor, always a teen advisor." I hope that I have helped to inspire more young women from Utah to apply to be teen advisors and be involved with Girl Up, because I know that this experience can change others in the way it has changed me.

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