Rutgers chapter of She's the First helps women in impoverished countries to complete their education

<p>At Rutgers, She's the First (STF) advocates for the education of young women in impoverished countries. The organization's activism focuses primarily on high school, where many women are discouraged from staying in school due to factors like transportation, cost and domestic pressure.</p>

At Rutgers, She's the First (STF) advocates for the education of young women in impoverished countries. The organization's activism focuses primarily on high school, where many women are discouraged from staying in school due to factors like transportation, cost and domestic pressure.

She’s the First: Rutgers, a college chapter of the national non-profit, kicked off the school year with its first general meeting on Tuesday night in Hardenburgh Hall.

As an extension of She’s the First (STF) — an organization that supports girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their families to graduate high school — members of the Rutgers chapter educate prospective members on the importance of this cause and encourage them to participate in their many fundraising activities throughout the school year.

Ankita Veta, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and the president of STF: Rutgers, explained that the funding specifically finances their high school education, as this is the time for many girls in these countries when familial obligations or societal expectations will cause them to discontinue their education.

Significant obstacles including poverty, dangerous routes to school, higher costs at higher levels of schooling and emphasis on early marriage and traditional roles often keep girls in low-income countries from completing their education, according to the She’s the First official website

“But the fact that you are here today, that you are at this meeting, that alone is already a step towards taking action,” Veta said.

The STF website points to the many direct, positive impacts that occur when a girl is provided access to education. 

An education means each girl earns 20 percent more per year of schooling she finishes, is less likely to marry early and more likely to be in a healthy relationship, has fewer, healthier children and will take the skills learned in the classroom to support her family and her community, according to the website.

To make this a reality for girls all around the world, hundreds of high school and college chapters throughout the U.S. and other countries host fundraisers designed to engage the surrounding community, utilizing creative ways to raise money for their scholars and spread awareness for STF.

At Rutgers, the STF chapter runs several key fundraisers to support their scholars.

“Each semester, STF runs a national campaign in the fall called ‘Bake A Change’ that we run at Rutgers, where we sell baked goods and put all proceeds towards our scholars. We also host dance-a-thons and dance classes as fundraisers for the national #SweatforSTF campaign – to find fun and creative ways to get people moving and to donate to our scholars,” said Divya Srivastava, a senior in the School of Engineering and the vice president of Rutgers STF.

This semester, STF: Rutgers is also planning an event to be held on the International Day of the Girl, where they will run an international food festival and incorporate dishes from countries the Rutgers chapter has worked with in the past, which include Ethiopia and the Gambia, to encourage students to learn about a new culture and their organization, Veta said.

These events will be planned and coordinated at each club meeting every other Tuesday, with the help of general members. Each general meeting includes planning and logistics of events, reaching out to other Rutgers organizations and making flyers to get the word out, Srivasta said.

Meetings also consist of Global Awareness Program discussions, called GAP talks. These talks consist of peer discussion guided by each chapters’ global awareness program representative, centered around a new topic STF sends out every month. This month’s topic will be intersectionality.

Since its launch in November 2009, STF has funded a total of 923 scholars through the work of 225 campus chapters, according to their website. As of 2016, the organization donated over $1.3 million to scholars throughout the 11 countries they work with.

“Our money from last year, which totaled just over $2,500, went to six scholars – one from India, three from Kenya, one from Guatemala and one from Nepal,” Veta said.

Many members of the Rutgers chapter agree that the best part of working on behalf of STF is the direct communication they get with scholars. 

Another part of club meetings includes correspondence between members and scholars, in the form of letters written back and forth, which allows members to feel like they are having a direct impact on an individual’s life.

“Our main contact is through written communication but there are scholars that come to our Leadership Summit every summer,” Veta said. “A few of us who were there last year actually got to meet a couple scholars, and they are just so passionate and despite so many obstacles, they continue to keep education a priority which is really inspiring.”

Sruthi Sureshkrishnan, a sophomore in the School of Engineering and the outreach chair for STF: Rutgers, explained that a founder of STF attended the same high school as her, so as the organization rapidly expanded and gained national recognition, she was immediately drawn to it.

“We get to see the direct effects of what we do and how our work really impacts the lives of people that need it, and it’s a truly rewarding experience. I think that’s what keeps us all in the club and makes us want to put our all into it,” she said.

Caroline Bellscheidt, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and a prospective member of STF: Rutgers, said she definitely intended to return and participate in the campus chapter after attending her first meeting.

“I found out about this specific meeting on Facebook and decided to show up, and I’m so happy that I did,” she said. “We are so fortunate in our country in so many ways, so I think it’s only right for us to do whatever we can, whenever we can, to help those who are not as fortunate and help them become the best they can be.”

In describing the necessity and importance of an organization like STF, Veta often refers back to a part of the African adage that reads, “When you educate a girl, you train a village.” 

To her, investing in the education and empowerment of women in low-income countries has an impact far beyond just the individual level, as this can have incredible impacts on entire communities.

“If there’s one thing we want everyone to take away from what we do, it would be that this is not just about our scholars – this is about the world that these girls are living in and making their mark on,” Veta said. “By giving them the resources to fulfill their potential, we are actually helping to fuel the potential for advancement all over the world.”

Emma Fletcher is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.

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