Noah Olsen is a sophomore at the American School of Paris. After meeting Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof and Room to Read Founder John Wood at a special sneak peek of Half the Sky last week, Noah was inspired to write about the role his generation has to play in ensuring girls have equal access to education as a guest blogger for Room to Read. Here are Noah's thoughts.
Seeing Half the Sky was a big wake up call for me about the oppression of women around the world. It was also inspirational to see the great work being done by Room to Read and other NGO’s in the film. I was moved by the strength of the human spirit to overcome adversity. It was amazing to see how passion, commitment and personal force can overcome almost anything. As a 15-year-old, I was both moved and inspired to action. If all other teenagers could be similarly affected, we could create not only a great force for change but a new generation of leaders—ready to help improve the status of millions of girls and women around the world.
How can it be done?
First, we need to help teens understand the issue. I think that through documentaries like Half the Sky and other individual stories spread through social media, we can help spread the word and make the case that something must be done. Second, we need to convince teens that even the biggest and most insurmountable problems can be overcome. When Mr. Kristof was asked whether overcoming the oppression of women was a task too big to deal with, he admitted that it is hard to tackle, but maintained that with commitment, willpower, and energy it is possible to surmount anything. To illustrate this point, he cited Jimmy Carter’s crusade to eradicate river blindness, which at the time of his presidency was an overwhelming problem. Today river blindness is a non-issue.
One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Kristof’s presentation was Half the Sky’s use of gaming to move people into action. In partnership with Games for Change, Half the Sky is looking to engage an audience that isn’t currently aware of the issues that oppressed women around the world face, in a fun and dynamic way. Today’s youth is a multimedia generation. Young people like myself are less likely to sit down to read a 300 page book, or watch a four hour documentary on the oppression of women—we are much more likely to spend hours playing a game on Facebook.
Once Half the Sky and Games for Change have grabbed our attention, each of us must decide how to best support the cause. Students have an important role to play in spreading the word about the injustices that women face around the world. Although adults may have more financial means to help the cause, children and teenagers have the ability to persuade a wide variety of people to donate and get involved (parents, grandparents, friends, etc.).
As an example of what students can do to make a difference, I would like to outline the actions that I’m personally taking to support Room to Read. First, I am working with my school administration to bring about a Room to Read movement at my high school. Educating girls is at the core of reversing oppression against women.
Second, I will use Facebook to spread the word to friends and family and ask them do the same. In the past year, we have seen the enormous power of social media to bring about social change in countries like Egypt.
Third, I would like to raise money for Room to Read and encourage my friends to do so, too. Room to Read has a remarkable track record in educating girls for only $250 a year. I’d like to challenge 10 friends to raise $250 each, to allow 10 girls to go to school. Now that’s real change! And what better value for money?!
Fourth, I would like to encourage everyone to watch Half the Sky when it airs on PBS on October 1 and 2. I plan to host viewing parties at my home as a fun way to spread the word with friends. I know that once people see this documentary, they will understand the issues facing women and be moved to get involved.
It is by creating awareness, that we will inspire action and bring about real change. Not only will we be able to educate women in our lifetime, but we will change the fate of generations to come. I hope all young people will join me and see how together we can bring about lasting change.
Learn more about how students can get involved with Room to Read.