by Aja Watkins
When I was called upon to host a global education advocacy event in my capacity as a GLOBAL YOUTH AMBASSADOR FOR A WORLD AT SCHOOL for Day of the African Child, I was understandably nervous. I had never done this before. I knew that I had the local contacts, and the contacts from Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US) and A World At School (AWAS), to have plenty of help planning the event, and I knew I had enough friends and family that could be convinced to attend, but I wanted this to be my success. I wanted to be able to reach someone who had never thought about the importance of education. I wanted to be able to say something original, and meaningful, which would inspire others to act. I wanted to stand out.
It was easy to choose a screening of “GIRL RISING” for my event, and I was not worried that it would be difficult to lead a discussion afterwards. Everyone loves a free, well-done movie, and “Girl Rising” is, if anything, thought-provoking. Utilizing local resources that I’d known from my past, I was able to set up a venue at the ALBUQUERQUE CENTER FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE, and they helped me strategize for publicizing my event. I learned all the places around town to hang up flyers for free, cafes and book stores and libraries. I learned all the places online that would add my event to their calendar, and all the organizations that would post about it on their Facebook pages. Advertising for free required some work, but it was not nearly as difficult as I had expected. Basically, it turned out, other people cared about this cause, too.
My preparation was also relatively straight forward. I had already seen the film, but I introduced some of my close friends and family to “Girl Rising” to seek advice on what to say in an introduction. JENNIFER MASON, a writer, took the time to record her suggestions for me, “Remind the audience,” she suggested, “of times when they have felt the same as these girls feel. Even if you’ve never been denied an education, or been discriminated against, or survived a natural disaster, all of us have likely wanted something and not been able to get it. It’s that simple.”
GCE-US provided me with some take-home flyers that included next steps for attendees, and got the local RESULTS group involved. I worked on my speech, and discovered providing free lemonade would be mutually beneficial. I passed out more flyers, and recruited more friends and friends-of-friends. My event was featured in the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice’s newsletter, and they included me in their short radio program the week before. June 10 approached.
After the sound check, making the lemonade, setting up the chairs, putting out the next-steps flyers, I had an extra hour before audience members would show up. I manned the front desk of the Peace Center for a while, which I used to do weekly as a volunteer when I lived in Albuquerque. I caught up with the coordinator, and read The Sound and the Fury. I got an email from an old high school teacher of mine saying that he was coming, and bringing his father.
When it was time, I greeted guests, and was glad to see some strangers.
In my introduction, I made it personal. I shared that even though I had never been denied an education, I am able to make my own decisions and I do not live in the fear of sexual violence, starvation, poor health or disrespect—the movie speaks to me because as a girl and knowing the gift and blessing that education has been for me, I am distressed that such an essential aspect of childhood is denied to others.
I asked my audience to consider the humanity that they shared with the girls. For me, it’s this simple: I do not have to have had the same experiences, the same emotions, or the same goals as these girls. They, too, are human, and so I am concerned for their wants and needs. We don’t have to have shared anything else.
Attendance was better than I expected it would be, and the audience included several people involved as students or educators, for which I was pleased. Someone said, “Every child should see this film.” One young woman was able to share her story, being the first in her family to go to college. The fervor and the support of my guests stood out to me more than I ever needed to stand out to them. Honestly, pulling off the event was easy, because I am surrounded by so many passionate people who also care about the education of others. I hope to host many more advocacy events from now on, and to participate in others.
I was also able to use my event to spread the word about the movement on June 16, the Day of the African Child. I told my attendees about the WHITE HOUSE CALL-IN DAY to provide constituent support for the US pledging $250 million over two years to the GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP FOR EDUCATION. If nothing else, I hope that someone learned about their own ability to advocate for what resonates with them.