Rutgers She’s the First chapter strives to empower girls
Less than two years ago, the Taliban shot then-14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai in the face for promoting girls’ education. Today, Cierra Kaler-Jones is fighting for the same cause by introducing a Rutgers chapter of She’s the First on campus.
She’s the First is a non-profit organization that sponsors girls’ education in developing nations so they can be the first in their families to graduate from secondary school.
According to the organization’s website, “She’s the First is committed to connecting sponsors and scholars around the world in innovative, mutually beneficial ways to foster mentorship, philanthropy, equality and leadership.”
The organization claims girls who go through secondary education earn 10 to 20 percent higher wages. They work in 10 countries that average a 33 percent enrollment rate for girls in secondary schools and have sponsored 346 scholars in places like Guatemala, Nepal and Uganda, according to their website.
The organization gives each girl they sponsor multiple tools to ensure her success in the world. It takes only $300 to sponsor a girl for a year, Kaler-Jones said, and the sponsor can send correspondence to their recipient.
“You can communicate through Skype or snail-mail letters, and you start to close the gap,” she said.
Kaler-Jones, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, interned with She’s the First last semester and fell in love with their mission.
“I fell in love with the idea of being first,” she said. “Being a first-generation college student, this is something that spoke clearly to me. I could have a connection with somebody on the other side of the globe. That’s what made me want to start the chapter here at Rutgers.”
Kaler-Jones was a U.S. Operations intern, or “Do-It-All” intern, which focused on the planning and implementation of workshops. Her focus was self-identity, community and global awareness.
“All three intertwine … your self-identity forms the way that you interact with your community and also the way you interact with your global community,” she said.
Being a part of the Douglass Residential Women’s College, Kaler-Jones realized other women shared the discrimination and hardships she faced.
When she noticed She’s the First lacked a Rutgers chapter, she decided to go to the national branch and apply.
She’s the First approved the chapter last spring semester, and the organization met a few times, but were still under provisional status at Rutgers. This is the first semester the chapter has been official on campus.
They went beyond fundraising and sponsoring girls in developing nations, aiming to getting young girls to see that they could make a difference.
“Even if they’re a girl from a small New Jersey town, something as simple as holding a bake sale can lead you to sponsoring a girl and changing the trajectory of her entire life,” Kaler-Jones said.
Radhika Srivastava, secretary for the Rutgers chapter, also spoke about the vision and goal of the Rutgers chapter, and how she sees it evolving over the next few years. They are currently planning more fundraising and awareness events.
Their goal, Srivastava said, is to raise enough funds during their spring fundraisers to sponsor their first girl.
As a global awareness program representative, Srivastava meets with different collegian chapters and national branch members to discuss issues that impact the girls in the developing nations so that they can have a greater understanding of what they go through.
She has always been interested in women’s rights, especially in developing nations.
“The greatest investment you can make is in women’s education,” she said. “It influences so many things across the board and is a more sustainable and ethical way to solve a lot of issues in those countries.”
Being a new organization on campus, it is hard for the team to get their name out there and have people show up to their events. Kaler-Jones said everyone at Rutgers is involved in other activities, so getting people to come to meetings is difficult.
But being at a large university has given them an advantage. They can partner with a network of organizations with similar missions to get their name out, Kaler-Jones said.
As the outreach chair member, Hantz Jean-Francois works to build relationships with other clubs and organizations on campus, which allows them to promote their name and get their directive out to the student body.
She’s the First has a strong focus on social media. It reaches more than 22,000 girls through social media platforms and more than 400,000 students in opening campus chapters.
The organization plans to host two events this spring, a movie screening and a “Zumbathon,” to raise funds in hopes of sponsoring their first scholar.
Their screening of the movie, “Legally Blonde,” is intended to bring people together and make them aware of what the organization does. It also promotes the mission of girls’ education in a fun way. Twenty percent of the proceeds will go to sponsoring a girl.
At the “Zumbathon,” a Zumba instructor would come in and participants would learn more about the mission and also about leading a healthy life. A hundred percent of the proceeds will go to sponsoring their first girl, he said.
“We’re starting out small so we’re just trying to get our name out there now,” said Jean-Francois, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “I just want to put She’s the First on the right path for the years to come and see it go in the right direction.”
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