Amidst the hustle-and-bustle atmosphere of the bubble this year lies For Her’s aspiring project. A new society at the University, For Her is determined to establish itself through its proactive mission and its commitment to act.
On a quiet Monday afternoon, I interviewed For Her’s President and Vice President, Anna Atwell and Juliette Renaut. The ladies seemed rather demure at first, but their wild ambitions were instantly revealed the moment For Her was mentioned.
Ms Atwell grew up in Bozeman, Montana, also where the Central Asia Institute was founded. The organisation’s mission is to help solidify a foundation for peace in developing countries. Although the Institute educates both girls and boys, they have found that focusing on girls generates more impact.
As Anna’s high school was engaged in the Institute’s activities, she soon got inspired to take part. Coming to St Andrews, she realised that she wanted to bring their mission forward – to empower communities and promote peace through education, in particular the education of women. For Her was founded soon after.
In response to a question about what education meant to her, Ms Atwell eagerly responded, “Historically, education has been used as a tool to benefit people from all walks of lives. In daily life, this means an improvement to living conditions. In a bigger picture, education provides opportunities to have more control over one’s future. Such impact is enhanced even more when girls are educated, as children of educated mothers have a greater chance of surviving and are more likely to go to school.”
This year, For Her has voted to help fund Gamjabad High School in Pakistan. The school has a total of nine teachers and 78 students, 56 per cent of whom are female, which is an astonishingly high rate for a high school in the region. Due to harsh winter months, Gamjabad is only in session from April until November.
Proceeds raised will go towards funding the teachers’ salaries, providing better equipment, restoring the school facilities, and also providing access to clean water for pupils. This ensures that students won’t have to miss school during poor weather, and that potential difficulties posed by the Taliban will be alleviated through these fundraising programs.
When asked about their fundraising strategies this year, Ms Atwell and Ms Renaut shared a multifaceted approach that aimed to raise awareness and proceeds through fun, social events. Ms Renaut said, “On campus, our big fundraiser for this semester will feature an a cappella night where all of St Andrews’ major a cappella groups come together.”
Additionally, there will be smaller events in collaboration with other societies such as murder mystery nights, pub nights, and movies to help facilitate social interactions. Locally, For Her have also implemented a program called Pennies For Peace, which fosters relationships with local schools in St Andrews. “Through teaching participants about other cultures, we hope to not only connect children who come from different backgrounds, but also to embrace the values of philanthropy and compassion”, Ms Renaut reflected. Ms Atwell also added, “Find a penny pick it up, it’s an opportunity to fundraise and to help other people.” Through Pennies For Peace, children can come up with their own fundraising initiatives, ranging from placing found pennies in a jar, to holding contests and performances. For receivers on the other side of the world, this offers an opportunity to improve their economic status and gain more opportunities in the professional world, while for child fundraisers, this means realising their power to make an impact. As for Her Choice, Pennies For Peace is one of the small steps that aims eventually to break the poverty cycle and reduce the gender inequality gap.
An individual on the receiving end of the Central Asia Institute’s work shared what her scholarship meant to her, “I would like to thank you for continuing your assistance so I can finish my education and fulfill my dreams. In fact, with your help, you bring brightness not only to our lives, but also to our families and take away the bitterness with your sweet deeds.”
This letter was written by Yalda, an Afghan girl whose father was killed when she was six, and whose brother lost a limb in a bombing at around the same time as his death. Although she suffered much grief and poverty, she tried to not let these challenges deter her pursuit of education. The scholarship that she received not only funded her tuition and schooling expenses, but gave her a sense of support and hope.
She added, “My dream about my future is that I can help other people like me who have had a miserable life and have not been able to been able to go to school on their own, like myself, so they can also improve their family’s’ life.” To girls like Yalda, education is not just a tool for a better life, but also a purpose to live despite the brutalities that injured her at a young age.
By the time Ms Atwell and Ms Renault graduate, they hope to have established a stable presence of For Her in the community of St Andrews. “Our immediate goals are to fundraise to assist the Central Institute of Asia in their shared mission of fostering women and girls through education. In the long run, we aspire to raise awareness of the issues encountered by the less privileged, and in turn encourage our peers to become advocates of education”, said Ms Atwell.
It is rather difficult to visualise the impact of For Her’s seemingly small acts. How does selling a cappella tickets, baking brownies, or showing movies transform a girl’s life thousands of miles away?
An answer can be found in the story of Naseem Parveen, a young girl whose life changed dramatically in 2010, when her village in Pakistan experienced an enormous landslide which consequently covered entire properties and homes. Survival was a question mark, let alone education. However, the Central Asia Institute stepped in, setting up a tent school near the landslide area.
Naseem continued with her education and went on to college. Now, she is giving back by being a teacher and a role model for the younger generations. She said, “In the areas where there is no school and they cannot receive education, they are forced to marry in their teenage years, around the ages of 14 to 18.”
By fostering education, Naseem is passing on the opportunities that she received to younger girls. Thus while it can seem useless for us to take action, not being able to see the immediate effect of our efforts or foresee the magnitude that they would bring, stories like those of Naseem and Yalda go on to demonstrate that the little steps that we take today, cumulatively, will eventually go on to change someone’s life and translate into further impact on the lives of others.
For current St Andreans, societies like For Her contribute both diverse, collaborative, social events, and awareness. For women on the other side of the world, all the help that they receive can act as the gateway to change many lives.