To truly empower young girls we have to start at home.
A few days before Thanksgiving, she declared she wanted to do something for families that were impacted by the pandemic. She wanted to do something for the children who wouldn’t be able to get a Thanksgiving meal this year. She didn’t just want to raise money (as she had done with #blacklivesmatter) but wanted to get involved and spring into action.
She reached out to a few local non-profits asking them what they needed help with. None of them responded except for one. The Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto. It was right in her backyard but she had not heard of them. She recruited a few friends to help. Her friend and neighbor, Fallon signed up to be her partner in crime.
Young girls with a plan.
They would create a flyer with the information they had received from the Ecumenical Hunger Program staff with a list of items they needed – from food to personal care items to toys and books. We are in the middle of a pandemic so she was not very confident that this would be a successful food drive. Every day after school, Fallon and her would walk the neighborhood wearing a mask, asking the neighbors for donations. Some slammed the door on their faces, some pretended not to see them, but most of the neighbors donated from their pantries. Many even had grocery orders delivered to her home.
In just two weeks, the garage was filled with all kinds of donations. After school, she would sit for hours in the garage, carefully cataloging each item, logging donations with names, and writing thank-you notes.
She was overwhelmed by the response she had received. The morning of the donation drop off, she said to me,
“Mom, I had never imagined this drive would be so successful. It was just a simple idea I had. This experience has taught me that no idea is too small or too big. The important thing is to just run with it. I am so glad I did.”
I was so proud of her not just for what she had done but for the lesson she had learned. To pursue her ideas relentlessly and give them a fair shot.
As her mother, I had to reflect on this more deeply by thinking about my own experience growing up in a small town in South India, in a very conservative middle-class family. I was very much like my daughter, I had many ideas, small and big but I didn’t have the courage to pursue them as she does. I also didn’t have the support system she does. So I had to examine what is this phenomenon that nurtures young female leaders.
Key insights on how to empower young girls:
Get out of their way
I mean it! Stop judging their ideas or telling them what to do. The confidence builds when they own their ideas and work on validating them in the real world. From this experience, my daughter has learned a valuable lesson that she should not ‘self-reject’ her ideas. She has to give them a shot. If it works out, it could have a significant impact on the lives of others! Of course, throughout this process, my grown-up brain was coming up with all kinds of reasons why this was not going to work. I didn’t tell her what I was thinking and I am glad I didn’t. I was wrong in so many ways.
Be an ally
I was blown away by how the community came together to support the food drive. The involvement of the community of neighbors, family, and friends made a tremendous difference to the girls. We were all allies that were here to support and partner with them.
Fail then pivot
It took a few days for the girls to gain traction on donations. Many families weren’t home and the in-person model was not working for everyone. So they had to pivot and use social media to get more eyeballs on the project. They succeeded by leveraging multiple ways of reaching people who were interested in donating. Local moms groups, WhatsApp groups, Instagram, Facebook, email distis, you name it. They explored a wide range of options. This was a very important lesson as they saw where they were failing and quickly changed course to get back on track. Failure was no longer a detractor. In fact, they enjoyed exploring pivot options.
The giving spirit is contagious!
Their act of kindness inspired many others in the community. We enjoyed getting to know the staff at the Ecumenical Hunger Program in Palo Alto. They were young people who grew up in that community spending hours sorting, packing, distributing groceries to those in need. We brought them coffee and donuts one morning as they were hard at work and were so blown away by their love and appreciation for this small gesture. The giving spirit is truly contagious! We were all glowing that week!
Be a better human
I think girls inspire others to be better humans. It’s a fact as there are many famous young girls to prove that. You know the saying ‘teach a girl and she will teach her village’. I couldn’t agree more. Girls inspire everyone to be better humans.
As a former girl, the mother of a young girl, I aspire for a world where every girl, in every part of the world gets a fair chance of exploring her ideas, her full potential. This will not happen automatically, without our involvement. If you don’t know where to begin, start at home with the young girls in your life. Ask them about their big ideas and dreams. Give them the support they need to bring those ideas and dreams to life. And then, get out of their way!
I dedicate this article to my daughter, Riya who turns 14 today. I love you, Riya! I am so glad I don’t have to wait for you to grow up to see you pursue your ideas and your dreams. You are doing it every. single. day. You are my inspiration, my hero. I love you.
Follow our stories for more inspiration. The Accidental Ally https://theaccidentalally.com/blog/
A picture below of Riya and Fallon (and our dog, Penny) posing with all the donations for the food drive.
Picture below of Riya and Fallon with staff at the Ecumenical Hunger Program in Palo Alto.
Information about the Ecumenical Hunger Program can be found here – https://www.ehpcares.org/