July 23, 2019 | 67° F

Rutgers club devoted to educating women worldwide


Courtesy of Tahreem Malik| She's the First is a student organization that is devoted to helping girls in economically disadvantaged countries become the first to finish secondary school in their families.

Only one in every five girls completes an elementary education in developing countries.

But a Rutgers club, She's the First, is devoted to helping girls in economically disadvantaged countries become the first to finish secondary school in their families.

“The goal is to sponsor girls who are the first in their families to get an education,” said Ankita Veta, president of She’s the First and a School of Arts and Sciences junior. "Typically, the girls are from developing countries and face familial and cultural obligations that impede their education."

She’s the First was originally founded at The College of New Jersey in 2009 and has since spread to 193 international chapters.

Each chapter is given a specific scholar to sponsor, making the relationship between the chapter and the sponsor extremely personal. The members of She’s the First are able to interact with their sponsors through letters.

She’s the First members attend an annual summit in New York, where they meet girls who received an education with help from the sponsorship. They also listen to students discuss how receiving an education has impacted their lives.

“We got to talk to them and listen to them … it changed my perspective,” said Tahreem Malik, publicity chair of She’s the First and a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “Some girls have to walk two to four hours to their school and we complain about waking up early for class.”

Young girls are "very much responsible" for helping out, if not outright running their households and completing chores, Veta said. Often this commitment is prioritized over academics, and “school is secondary.”

One of the scholars talked about how she would wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. to do chores for a few hours. Afterward she would go to school, complete her homework and then return to her chores, often sacrificing sleep for school, Veta said.

At the summit, one girl spoke about her goal of working as a doctor, Malik said.

“She’s so young right now and dreaming that big is just amazing,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

While She’s the First helps educate girls, it was clear that “they had more to teach us,” Veta said.

The club is making a "tangible difference," said Divya Srivastava, Global Awareness Representative for the club and a School of Engineering junior.

“Because of the way currency rates work, it only takes $300 to $400 to sponsor a girl’s education for the entire year,” Veta said. “It’s unreal that you can do so much with so little.”

The summit also featured Babita Patel with the KIOO project, a non-profit that teaches children in economically disadvantaged areas the arts as a way to address gender equality. She is a humanitarian who traveled to a She’s the First site to teach photography.

She worked only with girls in the school, teaching them the basics of photography for two weeks.

Then the girls taught the boys photography, turning the typical classroom dynamic around, Veta said. The boys began to recognize that girls can also teach a skill and had value in the classroom.

The club struggles with appealing to a wider audience, Malik said.

“I think it’s hard for us to attract males," she said.

Malik said male students may hear the word "she" in the name and assume the club is not for them. In reality, She's the First is trying to call in people from all genders, she said. 

At meetings, the club plans events that are consistently held in the chapters of She’s the First across the nation. The #BakeAChange campaign in the fall is a bake sale of tie-dye cupcakes, and #SweatforSTF is an exercise-based fundraiser. Fundraisers are used to sponsor one girl each semester.

The club focuses on the importance of educating females because educating a girl enables her to gain confidence, which helps her to get out of dangerous situations, Veta said. 

“It’s really easy to make a difference if you just show up,” Veta said. “You’ll know why it’s worth it.”

Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.

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