Reasons Why We Still Need Feminism by Sarah Connolly

Director’s Note:  Recently thinkpeace girl Sarah Connolly wrote this article for her school’s newspaper.  Sadly, it was met with ridicule by some of her classmates.  Perhaps the reactions that Sarah received were a result of discomfort over the issues she raised in her article, but it is precisely because it sparked a reaction that we need to continue the dialogue about gender equality.  At thinkpeace we believe that boys are equally a part of the solutions to the issues facing girls worldwide. We believe that we are IN IT TOGETHER. Recognizing the importance in us all working together to create the change we know needs to happen, the United Nations has launched a program called HeForShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all. We encourage you all to keep talking to the boys and men in your life about what feminism really means and how they can stand with us for equality. Being a feminist means that you only need to be on board with one idea: All humans, male and female, should have equal political, economic and social rights.  To the critics of Sarah’s article: we ask you to think before reacting. We ask you to look around at the amazing girls and women in your lives.  We ask you to acknowledge their worth and to embrace equality.  We ask you to take the HeForShe commitment and stand WITH us. Imagine!

Why women fighting for their rights is still as relevant as ever

By Sarah Connolly, Editor in Chief

Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”So why do so many people shy away from this word? On July 4, 1776, our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, stating “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Before you say that the Constitution only states that “all men are created equal,” remember that in the 1700s, men was a universal term used to define all people. A feminist is not a girl who thinks she is superior to all men. The idea is about the real issues and obstacles that women are forced to face domestically and globally. A feminist is someone who fights for equality and human rights. Lately, I have heard a lot of people say that feminism should be renamed. People claim that if feminism is really about equality, then it should be called “humanism.” However, it would be completely ineffective to call the “gay rights movement” the “human rights movement.” Feminism is called feminism because the name addresses the problem at hand. So why is feminism so prevalent in today’s society? In America, women have the right to vote. They can have virtually any job they are qualified for and attend school to get a great education. Feminism is essential if women and men are ever going to be perceived as equals. Before you argue that women and men are in fact equal, consider these six injustices that women face:

  1. Around the world, women are treated as lesser human beings. In developing countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan, women are not allowed to attend school. If they chose to attend, they risk being shot by terrorist organizations or having acid thrown in their faces. The few women that do attend school are not allowed to do so with boys.
  2. In the United States alone, a woman is raped every two minutes. Twenty-five percent of girls are sexually assaulted before they turn eighteen. Sexual abuse goes far beyond the United States. It is perhaps even more prevalent in developing countries where women are poor and uneducated.
  3. Approximately 15 million girls around the world are forced into marriage before they turn eighteen. Some girls are married when they are as young as seven or eight years old to men they barely know. These young girls are neither physically or emotionally ready for such a commitment. Child marriages are a primary source of domestic violence, and younger girls are more likely to have complications in childbirth and contract HIV.
  4. Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, as it is more commonly known, is a destructive operation where girls’ genitals are removed or injured to stop sexual feeling. Operations are most commonly performed on girls before they hit puberty. It primarily takes place in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. FGM operations are extremely painful and can be fatal. FGM is commonly operated without a girl’s consent.
  5. In some countries, the majority of families desire to have a male child. Women are not as valued in their societies, and poor families need male children to get jobs to make money. Sadly, baby girls become a waste of money and resources, and some families kill or abandon their female children in order to save themselves from feeding an extra mouth
  6. Feminism is needed just as much domestically as it is internationally. If a woman and a man have the exact same credentials and work the exact same job, a woman is still likely to earn eighteen percent less money. Sure, we have female doctors, lawyers and politicians, but American society undervalues female workers. Therefore, they are paid less, and there is no reason for this. If a woman and a man have identical qualifications and work the same job, then they should have the exact same salary.

Cheris Kramarae once said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” Feminism is something that needs to be addressed on a large, global scale, we still have a long way to go before everyone, regardless of gender, is seen as equals around the world. However, in the past decade, society has made giant steps toward this goal.

on playing and giving, winter spring summer and fall



These past couple of months I often heard people refer to “the season of giving.”  The holidays seem to bring this out in people more than at other times.  It made me wonder, why is there only one season for giving?  Why limit ourselves?  There are opportunities to give every single day, 365 days a year.  Sometimes I think people equate giving with money only.  Sure money helps a lot but money won’t keep an elementary school kid from being teased or a middle school kid from feeling lonely or a high school kid from feeling overwhelmed or a college student from feeling lost or a new mom from feeling exhausted or a father from feeling pressure or a teacher from feeling unvalued or a grandparent from feeling forgotten. Perhaps the most important thing we each can give is, simply, kindness.

Still, thinking kind thoughts, wonderful as they are, is not enough.  Your smile, your compliment, your acknowledgment of another is action, real action that you can take that will impact another.  Similarly, thinking about poverty, homelessness, gender violence, global warming, etc. isn’t enough.  It’s a place to start.  The issues sound so big and we’re left feeling that there is nothing we can do that will really make an impact.  There is this pervasive belief that we’re all too busy.  We’re already pulled in a thousand directions– who has time to take on world hunger?  Sometimes I hear from other parents that kids need to be kids and have more time to play and shouldn’t be burdened with the harsh realities of the world around them just yet.  So they play a lot of sports and a lot of electronic games.  I love play! Love, love, love sports! And I still think we have time to care about others and give.  Recently I was watching my son and his friend laugh together while sitting side by side on the couch playing games on their devices.  I so love hearing the laughter but after an hour of this they seemed caught in a zone. I asked them if they wanted to take on a challenge.  Knowing me and my ways, they were instantly suspicious!  They took a chance and said, sure– bring it on.  I placed 5 food items in front of them and asked them to create a winning appetizer. My son’s friend hasn’t cooked much and began to get agitated.  He had no idea what to make. He stared at the ingredients for a long time.  5 random things.  We started to talk about food choices and how many we have and how we take it for granted that meals come easily to us.  Most of us. I asked the boys if they had any idea how much money the 5 ingredients before them might cost.  They were shocked when we figured it out.  We started to talk about the poverty line and how people can possibly manage to live on $1.25 a day in this country. They asked how kids living below the poverty line get lunch at school.  Fact is, more than half of American kids who attend public school rely on a meal at school for the only one they’ll get.  As my son and his friend talked and had fun while creating their culinary masterpieces they were thinking about hunger and poverty.  Then we talked about action, what could they do, how could they give of themselves to someone who is cold, hungry, homeless in our own community.  And so it begins…

There ARE things we can do.  Kids can volunteer at local shelters for certain needs.  You know that laughter coming from the couch of two boys playing electronic games?  What if those boys went to the shelter with some hot chocolate and sat with someone there and  played with them for an hour?  It’s a simple act, requiring no real money.  What if that smile shared felt so good that they went back again another evening?  I can honestly tell you that giving from your heart is just as addictive as video games or the adrenaline rush from a perfect shot on the court.  We can play and learn.  We can play and think about others.  We can play with others who don’t have much of a chance for play.  We can play and give.

It’s the little bits of good that each of us can do that truly can overwhelm the world.  Every day, every season…

P.S. the boys made the most delicious crostini with toasted marshmallow, basalmic-infused sun dried tomatoes!




It’s TakeActionTuesday– and the beginning of #16days of Activism against Gender Violence. During this time we ask you to join with us, and as we raise awareness and call for the elimination of violence against women and girls around the world.  Last year, the UNiTE campaign launched a global call for action to “Orange the World in 16 Days.”  The initiative aimed to create the symbolic image of a world free from violence against women and girls. The color orange is a uniting theme for all the events surrounding the UNiTE campaign, and is a bright and optimistic color, representative of a world free from violence against women and girls. At thinkpeace workshop for girls, orange represents many things, especially during this month of World Kindness, Tolerance and the campaign to stop gender-based violence.  Please put your orange on for the next #16days and make your statement!


Over the next 16 days we will be posting on facebook actions that you can take in your community. Today’s actions are:

Organize a walk with local government officials to mark the 16 Days of Activism. Wear orange t-shirts and carry orange banners, posters and balloons. Use the opportunity to engage members of your local community and raise awareness of violence against women and girls.
Share information about violence against women and girls with your local community and invite them to pledge to support the UNiTE campaign.
 ☮ Turn your profile picture orange for the duration of the 16 Days! Whether you’re on Twitter or on Facebook, it’s easy for you to turn your current profile picture orange.  Check out the overlay design on Twibbon. Go to and type in “#Orangeurhood in #16days”.
 ☮ Turn your emails orange! Write your emails in orange text, and put the following line on the bottom:  Wonder why this email is orange? Because it’s the International Day to End Violence against Women. Find out more at
 As we orange our hood in New York, #orangeurhood by photoshopping landmarks from your neighborhood orange, and share them on social media via the hashtags #orangeurhood and #16days.

At thinkpeace workshop for girls we believe that violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights and a serious global issue that is preventable.  It is NOT okay that 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.  The UN has stated that “Violence against women and girls impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combatting HIV and AIDS, and peace and security.  Violence against women and girls has enormous social and economic costs for individuals, families, communities and societies and has a significant impact on development and the realization of sustainable development goals.”  Together we can Say No to Violence. Start today.





so you want to change the world?

you can change the world

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. –Mahatma Gandhi

I was at a party last year, telling friends that I was excited about a class I was taking. After lots of “good for you” and “wow, that’s great” comments, someone asked what the class was called. I proudly said, “How to Change the World.” There was laughter. Eye rolling. Even a little snickering. And then someone said–out loud– “You really think YOU can change the world?”

Yes, I do.

I can change the world because I believe in the ripple effect. What change I want must start with me. It takes real action to create change. It takes steps…

1. Change yourself.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Holding onto negative thoughts like anger and jealousy, keep us from fully engaging in the real work of creating change in the world. When we change ourselves, let forgiveness, compassion and positive thinking take hold, it opens us up to all kinds of possibilities. The world around us changes because we radiate positive energy! Honestly, so often it is our own ego that gets in the way of changing the world. So many of us think that we are “not enough” or that someone else is “better than” us. What if we decided that we are enough and that comparing ourselves to others only leads to more problems and conflicts– what if we could shake those feelings off?
2. You are in control.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
That whole comparison thing we do eats away at our potential for happiness and real difference making. You can choose to dwell on negative feelings or wishes that your life was different. You have control over these thoughts. What if you choose to think of yourself in a more positive way? What if your own thoughts, ideas and actions mattered the most to you? What if you could look in the mirror and say, “I matter.”
3. Forgive and let it go.                                                                                                                                              “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”                                                          Have you ever wanted someone else to hurt as much as you have been hurt? Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. Hurt is hurt, no matter what. I remember when Malala Yousafzai was asked about seeking revenge on the men who shot her… “I’ve always been a daydreamer, and sometimes in lessons my mind would drift and I’d imagine that on the way home a terrorist might jump out and shoot me on those steps. I wondered what I would do. Maybe I’d take off my shoes and hit him, but then I’d think if I did that there would be no difference between me and a terrorist. It would be better to plead, ‘OK, shoot me, but first listen to me. What you are doing is wrong. I’m not against you personally, I just want every girl to go to school.” You can always choose how to react to something. Forgiveness can open us up to endless possibilities to move forward. Living with negative memories won’t help; you’ll probably just cause yourself more suffering which will keep you from taking action to heal the world.                                                                                                            4. Without action you aren’t going anywhere.                                                                                        “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”                                                                   I have this amazing friend who is a Priestess. The thing that makes her so amazing is that she not only preaches, literally, but she also PRACTICES. Every. Single. Day. And the thing that makes her beyond amazing is that she actually practices by the ounce! People are always saying “What can I do, I’m just one person, one vote, one insignificant voice.” I see people posting on Facebook daily about things that stir their souls, break their hearts, anger their sense of justice. I’ve done it myself. I read articles and books on social injustice and I post, post, post. When I realized that posts were being “liked” and no action was being taken, I thought more about what my goals were. My Priestess friend preaches about concrete actions that can be taken and takes them herself. Sometimes they are small actions. Sometimes they are huge! An ounce here, a pound there… it adds up to a whole lot of good work getting done.

I took that class, “How to Change the World” and read and studied issues facing the world. The best part of each week’s class came when the professor said, “Okay, so now you have read about the issue and studied it in depth. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
It’s so easy to say that we’re doing our bit to change the world by “raising awareness.” And yes, awareness needs to be raised! AND then what? I think that to really create change, to understand yourself and your world, you need to practice. Books, articles, workshops, classes can mostly just bring you knowledge. You have to take action and translate that knowledge into understanding and results. Ounce by ounce.
5. Everyone is human.
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Remember that thing about not “being enough” or someone else being “better than”? This being human thing means that each of us has strengths and weaknesses. There’s such a tendency to elevate others to some mythical status of perfection. When we put others on pedestals it automatically makes us lower, or less, and creates a lack of connection between us. What if we could believe that each of us has value? What if we accepted that we all are human? What if we knew that being human means making mistakes and having successes? What if I could celebrate you AND celebrate me, recognizing that we are different in many ways and commonly human no matter what? Instead of beating yourself up over mistakes that you have made, look with a bit of clarity where you went wrong and what you can learn from your mistake, with no comparison to others. And then try again.
6. Persist.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Be persistent. Find what you really like to do, what you feel compelled to do, what you want really do. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, going and going. When we know ourselves and trust that we are absolutely enough– the next step is persistence. Real change in the world will come when we persist in our work. Many times, when the self-doubt and inner sabotaging sets in, I have been tempted to give up. These are the moments when it’s vital to dig deeper. There aren’t magic wands or quick fixes to the world’s greatest challenges… it takes work. It takes rolling up the sleeves, getting sweaty and dirty, opening up our hearts and minds and making the commitment to persist. After a while you will not be ignored. You will not be laughed at. You will not be fought. Because your persistence will have opened someone else’s heart and mind and they will join you, in their own way.
7. See the good in people and help them.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
Growing up my mom would often tell me that there was always something good in everyone. I absolutely believe that in my heart. People have rolled their eyes over that conviction many times throughout my life and some have even gone so far as to try to prove it wrong. Human rights atrocities around the world can really mess with this belief I continue to hold. When I focus on the bad it seems too big to change. By shifting my focus to the good it becomes easier to motivate myself and others to be of service. By being of service to other people, by acknowledging their value, seeing the good in them, you make their lives better and your own. In time, the people you help may feel more inclined to help other people. Together we can create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and becomes stronger. What if we lived each day with kindness and respect? What if we focused on the good in people?
8. Be authentic; be your true self.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
So this is the big one. We live in this Facebook world now, where what we put out to the world is what we want the world to see. Some people are full of love and hope. Some people want others to see the bad stuff. Some people want to showcase themselves. Some people share things that lift them up, or bring them down, or twist them around. The point is, does your “Facebook world” reflect who you really are? Is your Facebook world authentic? If you can’t sleep at night because you’re worried about the unethical treatment of animals or the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, are you finding ways to take action? Are you walking the walk, not just talking the talk? People really like authentic communication. And there is much inner enjoyment to be found when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. You feel powerful and good about yourself. Then the most amazing thing happens! Your VOICE is heard. People will be motivated to do more than press the “like” button. They will listen to what you’re saying. You are communicating without mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness. When your actions aren’t in alignment with what you’re communicating you start to hurt your own belief in what you can do and other people’s belief in you too. Let your voice be truly heard!
9. Continue to grow and evolve.
”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”
A good friend of mine in college was a serious Conservative– swimming alone in a sea of very vocal Liberals. Knowing him changed my life. He challenged me daily, and himself.  He was there to grow. He was there to listen and evolve.  By sharing our differences we discovered our similarities. Though we had opposing belief systems, we stayed open minded and curious and were able to learn more about ourselves and the world. We helped each other see that there is more than one way, one position. In a fast-changing world it’s important to keep taking in new information. It’s also vital that we understand that each of us is important to the work of changing the world. I want to share the job with you. We are capable of so much. I starts right here, right now, with me, with you.

So, you want to change the world? What steps will you take?

stay here, please (a repost)

Director’s note:   We chose to repost this blog from our Program Intern, GARMIN, following the news of actor Robin Williams’ death. Today was supposed to be the beginning of a new series on our blog called #TakeActionTuesdays.  There are many important things that you can do with your life, but helping someone else believe in their significance, their value…  supporting someone in need of finding reasons to LIVE… that is truly invaluable. Too many people we know suffer from depression. If you, or someone you care about, are feeling empty or hopeless, please reach out. No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. In the U.S., call 1-800-TALK (8255) or go to . Internationally, go to and click on HELP. You matter, you really do. We are so glad you’re here. Check this out  and…thank you for living! A dear friend of ours  posted this quote today: “ I pledge to love all living things, just love them, help care for them have compassion for them. As long as anything living thing draws breath may I remain to ease their suffering.”  Peace.

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About a year and a half ago I heard a poet say “if you’re not writing the things you need to write then it’s a waste.” Those words clung to my soul and I have consciously tried to live them each day since and yet last week when I sat down to write this post, the words stopped at my finger tips and refused to come out. I know why. I know why, I have fought myself on this many times– putting thoughts or feelings to paper makes them real, it gives them life, it creates proof either for or against you and the part I often forget- it liberates you.

Like Ash Beckham {in the TedX talk above}, I have lots of closets. There have been plenty I have come out of and I could tell you about any number of them- the big ones and the small ones; the queer one, the dyslexic one, the artist one, the chronic disease one, the autistic brother one, and so on and so forth. And yet, there is one closet that I have stepped out of only partially. I say partially because my immediate family and friends know and yet, it’s not a thing I talk about, mention, bring up, or advocate for blatantly. It’s a thing that still sits behind a clear sliding glass door.

Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary of living. I know what you’re probably thinking: “GARMIN, aren’t you twenty-one, how can you be living for only one year?” Just hang tight. Not long before the time of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy last year I found myself standing about ready to jump out of my fourth floor bedroom window out on to the busy East 29th Street in New York City. Fear, undealt with events, trauma, flashbacks, and masked depression had brought me there. As I stepped one foot up to the ledge, my phone rang. It was my friend. She said “Hey there buddy, what’s up?” Frantically not knowing what to do I said, “I’m standing on the ledge of my bedroom about ready to jump out. I’m done.” Slowly, calmly and gracefully she talked me down from the ledge, and back into my bed and then put me on hold while she called our mutual friend who could help me. The next day I managed to get myself out of bed and went to a support meeting. A week later I found myself home at the kitchen table sobbing and recounting what had happened to my parents who had no idea. And there it was: suicide. Attempted suicide. One more breath and I could have been dead.

Just like that I had another closet- a closet of a past suicide attempt. When people asked why I was late to studio or why I randomly went home on the weekends, I would make up something instead of saying “oh, I had to see my therapist or I was having a hard time getting out of bed because I was sad.” And then not long before my one year anniversary of living I decided I was done- this time done in a different way. I was done hiding. Hiding that I had once attempted suicide or that I am on anti-depressants or that I still go to therapy to help undo all that crap that led me to that ledge. I decided that the next time mental illness, depression, suicide, or any related topics came up I was going to say something. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long. In one of my classes this fall, upon talking about bullying and suicide in the art classroom, a girl said “well, it’s the person’s fault if they get to that point of committing suicide.” I interrupted her and I said, “IT WILL NEVER BE MY FAULT THAT I WAS STANDING ON THAT LEDGE.” I continued on to support my statement and the room fell silent. There I was. Stepping out of my closet and choosing to ‘throw my grenade’, as Ash describes it.

I wish I could tell you that I was met with “Can I have a pancake?” like Ash. Alas, unfortunately it’s not always like that.  And that’s ok. The point is the fact that you have the guts, grit, bravery, and courage to throw your grenade, to put it out into the universe, to go liberate your heart, and to live into your authenticity. It’s not easy. In fact anyone who tells you that coming out of any closet is easy is lying. There is a reason we have stayed in our closets for far too long- it’s a scary world out there. It took me three months to tell my best friend I am queer and nearly a year to tell my parents, and these are people who I knew without a doubt in my mind would continue to support and love me.

While I personally love, love, love this video for all its content and ideas, I think she glosses over the moment in which you do actually step out of the closet. It’s liberating. Seriously, liberating. The only way I can describe that feeling is like flying through the Mexican jungle on a zip line with your arms wide open, smiling, and giggling, combined with the anticipation of Christmas and your birthday, winning a million dollars, and crossing the finish line of a marathon.  Seriously. Open your arms, take that step, PowerGirl, and hurl that grenade as hard as you possibly can. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Another Note from the Director of thinkpeace workshop:  I first met GARMIN not too long after the event she describes. We were participants at a workshop on white privilege, power, and social change. I was captivated by how honest and open, curious and supportive, focused and determined she was, with her self and with others. We spent 2 1/2 days together, learning and discussing and holding each other accountable. On the last day of the workshop we all faced each other and told each other what we appreciated about the person across from us. When I got to GARMIN it was just so easy: I appreciated her integrity and grit that was so beautifully blended with a giant, warm, sensitive heart. It was clear that she  was going to reach out, help others, share of herself, and live authentically. When she asked if she could intern with thinkpeace, I was delighted to look into her friendly, mischievous and highly alert eyes and say, YES. I am so glad that she is here, alive and ready to live a great big life as a thinkpeace powerGirl!

Wonder Woman Wednesday: Shannon Galpin

Director’s note:  This is the first post in a new thinkpeace series about girls and women doing some pretty amazing things with their lives. At thinkpeace workshop summer camp 2014, thinkpeace girls met with women from a variety of organizations. They talked about how their journey, from childhood dreams to what they studied in college combined with personal life experiences, has led to the work they are doing now and the visions they have for the future. We were inspired and motivated by these women– and others we’ve connected with– and would like to share some of these stories with you. Most of these posts will be written by thinkpeace girls who were literally energized by these Wonder Women!

Mountain Mover, Shannon Galpin                                                                                                                                by Reese Arthur

Shannon Galpin is one of the bravest women I have ever met. Not because she took her life savings, sold her home, quit her job and invested every bit of herself into giving a voice to girls and women halfway around the world… not because she got on her mountain bike and pedaled across a country where women were not allowed to ride bikes… not because she refused to be a victim to gender violence… to me Shannon Galpin is brave because every day she gets up determined to try harder, give more, and push through the obstacles. She works endlessly to help Afghan women and girls get an education and have opportunities for a better life.  Shannon gives of herself every moment in every way.

I could tell you Shannon’s story, but I encourage you to buy her book next month [you can pre-order it now AND contribute to the thinkpeace scholarship fund at] and read her personal story. What I want to tell you about is how she inspires me. Before attending thinkpeace camp in 2010, we were asked to bring with us some information about a cause or issue that was important to us. I have always been interested in women’s rights and had seen Shannon interviewed on Dateline.

I was 11 years old and I thought Shannon was really cool! In 3rd grade I did a biography report on Gloria Steinem and became aware of problems facing women and believed that there was still injustice towards girls, despite Ms. Steinem’s work.  When I learned about Shannon’s work, I felt I’d found another Gloria. She was passionate about changing the world too, in a pretty dangerous place. When Shannon responded to reporter Ann Curry’s question of why she was doing what she was doing with, “If not me, who?” I thought, I can do that too! So I emailed her and she got back to me right away saying that yes, I COULD do something to make a difference! I could organize a community bike ride with my friends to raise awareness about girls’ rights in Afghanistan. In upstate New York this was quite a challenge! That first year of what we called the Panjshir Tour, I was lucky to get my neighborhood friends to ride with me in solidarity.

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Over the next few years our ride has grown to include rides in California and India! Whenever I get a chance to talk about basic human freedoms such as riding a bike and going to school, I talk about Shannon and her work at Mountain2Mountain. I currently serve as the youth advisor for Mountain2Mountain and am eager to participate in this year’s Global Solidarity Ride with Shannon and other cyclists around the world. Shannon believes in the encouraging people to use their bikes “as a vehicle for social change and justice to support a country where women don’t have the right to ride a bike.” It’s cool that we have so many boys participating now in our local rides, joining us in our determination to ensure girls rights to an education around the world. The Global Solidarity Ride is scheduled for August 30th and if you want to organize  a ride in your community, let me know!  Just as Shannon has supported me, I’ll support you!

Shannon’s dedication has made such a difference. In just a few years Afghanistan has gone from being a country with no females on bicycles to a country with a National Women’s Cycling Team! It’s so exciting! Check out their beginnings at Things are looking up for women and girls in Afghanistan, but it’s always a precarious situation. The Taliban is still present and the women who ride are always at risk of being attacked or shut down. Now, more than ever, we need to stand with them in solidarity– to RIDE with them in solidarity– and send a message to the world that girls and women matter. Five years ago I met a real life hero, a wonder woman, who made me more aware, who made me feel  more deeply, who made me believe that every drop in the bucket counts– who told an 11 year old American girl that she could make a difference for a girl on the other side of the world. Now I’m asking you to join us– together we can pedal a revolution!


on forgiveness

Sometimes the difference between right and wrong seems so clear. Passionate beliefs often cause us to not be able to see the gray area between black and white.  And even if we could see it, believing in something means taking a side, right? Taking a side sometimes requires us to take extreme steps to protect our values.  The problem is that between my right and your right, wrong happens– wrong that neither of us wanted. There are victims and irreversible damage.  In our determination to be right we hurt others.  We convince ourselves that there is no one person we’re hurting– that we are going after fixing the wrong, no matter what the cost.  The cost has no face.  So what if someday we encounter the person who we hurt, or their loved ones and we listen to their story and they ask us to tell ours. Is it possible for there to reach an understanding or for there to be forgiveness? Is it possible that once we forgive, we can heal in ways that create real peace?  Imagine.

Recently we watched the incredibly moving documentary, “Beyond Right and Wrong”, which explores what happens to the victims from three different conflicts from recent history. For years, killing and hurting each other has been the way to take a stand for what we believe in.  At what point can we instead come together in a room and see each other as human beings? Jo’s father was killed by Pat in Northern Ireland.  Beata’s five children were killed by Emmanuel in Rwanda.  Bassam and Rami, a Palestinian and an Israeli, learned to see each other as human after losing their daughters.  As adult men, neither had actually had a conversation with someone from “the other side” before.  Their common grief brought them together. As they all heard each other’s story, they realized something pretty profound.

“Beyond Right and Wrong” shows what happens after the conflict, after the violence, when survivors and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives. Is it possible to balance a need for justice with the desire to forgive?  Survivors of conflicts often see themselves as prisoners.  Elie Wiesel wrote in his memoir about the atrocities he faced in concentration camps during World War II, “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”  He stated that while he was able to survive the concentration camps he was held prisoner in, he simply could not see himself as truly alive. The experiences he faced, the horrors he witnessed, and the terrors he lived killed him on the inside. Even though he survived physically, he no longer recognized himself. Still, Elie Wiesel has dedicated his life to speaking up for victims of genocide and oppression with a steadfast faith in humanity.  The only way for him to do this has been for him to forgive, yet never forget. So we ask… what does it take to be able to forgive?

Can whole societies recover from devastating conflict? Can survivors actually live with, talk to, smile and laugh with someone who hurt them, raped them, killed their parents, or slaughtered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? The Director of “Beyond Right and Wrong” didn’t really know what to expect when she started this film. Lekha Singh wrote, “When I visited Rwanda several years ago, I did not expect to find more healing than horror. I witnessed the resilience of people living in unimaginable circumstances: How was a mother whose children were killed able to sit with the man who murdered them – even able to converse with and smile at him? As I saw more interactions between victims and the ones who wronged them, such questions became more pressing. How could any person in that situation forgive the person responsible? Seeing the entire society move towards forgiveness was even more staggering.”

She was deeply affected. “I had so many questions about these efforts to cope with trauma. Why do some victims take the path of revenge, while others work towards forgiveness? Can forgiveness get in the way of justice? Is forgiveness a requirement for healing or moving on?”  She was compelled to explore these questions through the stories of survivors in Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, and Northern Ireland. The survivors share their personal stories that show that there are alternatives to blaming.  As the survivors and the perpetrators share their stories in person, a face is put on the conflict.  Faces change everything.  Each person’s story matters and gives us hope that there is another solution to conflict other than violence and hatred. This is the beginning of the transformative role of forgiveness and, ultimately, peace.

Yes, imagine.


one million bones-one year later

Today marks the one year anniversary of an experience many of our thinkpeace girls will never forget: the laying of one million bones on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  The One Million Bones project was a large-scale social arts practice to raise awareness of ongoing genocides and mass atrocities in places like Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Burma. The installation was a collaborative work to honor victims and survivors, and serve as a visual petition against ongoing conflicts and a resounding call for much needed and long overdue action.

For nearly two years thinkpeace girls handcrafted bones at our camp, at club meetings, at community events, and at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. We held state installations in Sacramento, California and Albany, New York.  All together we contributed over 5000 bones for the installation. The One Million Bones project is truly one of the most moving and significant experiences thinkpeace girls have participated in. One year later, they are still talking about it– not only the experience but also about ongoing genocides and the work that remains for us all to do.

One of the most important aspects of this project was about raising awareness– talking about genocide to as many people as we possibly could reach.  We were surprised by how many people we met who only had a vague idea of what genocide is, and how many more had no idea that it’s happening today.  After World War II we took a global oath: “NEVER AGAIN.”  It was amazing to us that so many people believed that was the last genocide.  And so we talked and talked, and created bones together, and talked some more.  The One Million Bones project taught us that “while we must remember and honor those lost to unimaginable horrors throughout history, we must focus on the current crimes against humanity that require immediate attention and action.”

This week, as we remember our experience with this incredible project, we will be reflecting on what we learned and felt and will share those thoughts with you on our Facebook page and on twitter. These will be thoughts from the thinkpeace girls who took part in this effort and who remain committed to raising awareness and being a part of the solution.  After nearly a year of making bones, thinkpeace girl Jenna, from New York, was with us in DC (along with her mom). She was deeply effected by the sheer volume of the bones. “Participating in the One Million Bones project was a huge eye opener for me and my mom.  I knew that genocide was still around, but crafting the bones and laying them on the National Mall gave me goose bumps… seeing what people go through every day…”  Like her thinkpeace sisters, Jenna continues to talk with others in her community about ongoing genocides and urges her peers to take action.  We encourage you to watch this short film from One Million Bones and to learn more about what continues to be a global human rights issue. Together we really can make a difference– and must.

give me the facts sista’: water

Director’s note: Second in her series about the issues facing girls (and the world) today, GARMIN talks water. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation  kill more people each year than all forms of violence combined, including war. thinkpeace workshop has just contributed 10,000 paper beads made for the Students Rebuild water challenge, in partnership with charity:water. That translates into a contribution from the Bezos Family Foundation of water for 500 people in Tanzania.  Water truly effects everything– education, health, poverty and opportunity. Imagine.


charity: water

When my doctor tells me I need to drink more water in order to get healthier faster, I groan. Hearing that I need to drink more water is last on my list of priorities, however for many girls, women, and children in developing countries water is the first on their list. Access to clean and drinkable water is one of top global health crises today, in fact so much that it effects 1 billion people. Yes, you read that right. 1 billion people. The facts are clear.

Check out this video by one of the organizations helping to bring clean drinking water to those without it, charity:water

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I’ve watched this video a number of times and what gets me every time is the fact that water affects every aspect of life. In most cases girls and women are the ones who are collecting the water for their families. Having to collect water puts their education on the back burner and often times forces them to drop out of school. Last week we talked about the importance of education and how it changes the quality of life for girls and women. That change can’t happen if girls are focused on obtaining water. When the strain of collecting water is diminished, two HUGE things happen for those communities: food supply increases and gender equality is now an option. Fresh water is needed to grow crops and for many families having enough water to grow their own small garden increases their food supply. Secondly, when girls are no longer burdened with collecting water they can either go to school or have the option of pursuing work. Either of those two options helps their own families and then their communities. Engaging women in work increases the GDP of a country and helps an area become more economically stable. While obtaining the funds to build systems to provide clean drinking water is not cheap there is a solution.

Later this summer at camp we will talk about ways to engage you in being part of the solution!

46 days until camp!!!

give me the facts sista’: education

At thinkpeace workshop we believe it is our duty as global citizens to be informed and educated on the challenges facing girls around the world. The next couple of weeks here on the blog will focus on some hard core facts of some of these challenging global problems with the intention of encouraging you to develop a critical lens aimed toward finding a solution. Naturally, these posts will not be fully comprehensive because many of these issues are large, complicated, and without simple straight forward solutions. Understanding the basic core of each challenge is the first step in finding a solution. 

This week we will take up the intersection of gender and education.

In this past Sunday’s New York Times, journalist Nick Kristof takes up this issue, “Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.” I think he’s spot on with this.  It’s why Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Afghan Taliban, it’s why Boko Haram took nearly 300 girls from school, and it’s one of the core contributors towards girl-specific violence. Quite simply the equation is this: girls + education = change

If you haven’t yet seen the video The Girl Effect, it’s time.

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So why would extremist groups and people in general be threatened by educated girls? Some facts followed by an explanation:

  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.

Fewer children means less people in the workforce which means less hands to be able to work the fields and help around the home. It means that girls gain control of their reproduction which gives them more power to create change. 

  • An extra year of primary school education boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10-20%.  An extra year of secondary school adds 15-25%.

More money for women means that the global poverty rate will go down. A woman will work to address problems in her community, and her children will be given a greater chance of survival. 

  • Women in 32 countries who remained in school after primary school were five times more likely to know basic facts about HIV than illiterate women.

Education decreases a girl’s or woman’s risk for contracting HIV or transmitting HIV to her baby. Knowing how to prevent contraction or transmission means that the global HIV/AIDS rate will go down. 

While we know educated girls are the key to global change, the rate in which girls are attending school has not caught up. Day of the Girl and Girl Rising, both organizations devoted to raising awareness on girls issues gives us the facts:

66 million girls are out of school globally.

 Only 30% of all girls worldwide are enrolled in secondary school. 

The average sub-Saharan African girl from a low income, rural household gets less than two years of school and never learns to read and write, to add and subtract, as opposed to the average sub- Saharan African boy who fully completes primary education.  

There are 33 million fewer girls than boys in primary school. 

If India enrolled 1 % more girls in secondary school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. 

So if all of these facts are true, why don’t we just cut to the chase and enroll girls in school? You see, it’s not that easy. School in other countries is not always free, it isn’t always available, and families don’t always want educated girls for a variety of reasons. Educated girls will create change, plain and simple. Change is not always easy.

Knowing the facts is the first step in creating change. Girls + education = change. How are you going to change the course of this global challenge?

Send me your thoughts, questions, concerns.