Forming one of the largest contingencies in attendance at the United Nations in New York City, a total of 46 students in grades 7 – 12 and their advisors from the Roosevelt and Edison Intermediate Schools and Westfield High School chapters of Girls Learn International (GLI) attended the International Day of the Girl “Speak Out” on October 11.

The theme of this year’s summit was Innovating for Girls’ Education, and the event highlighted girls' commitment to improving their communities and provided governments with concrete recommendations based on the global action of girls.  Girl presenters told their stories of community change and illuminated how the projects girls are working on affecting more than just girls, but benefit the entire community. 

Several girls from around the world (the United States, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Guatemala) reported on their activism and how they are making a difference in the lives of girls in their countries. The panelists were then addressed by UN representatives and delegates from various government missions who acted as respondents.  Some of the respondents included the Executive Director of UN Women, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, the First Lady of Peru, and the Ambassador of Turkey.

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Westfield students were moved by the stories told by the young panelists and inspired by their innovative projects.  One girl from Burkina Faso, named Malika, described her campaign to support girls’ education by distributing bicycles to girls in rural villages in her country to provide a safer and more efficient means of getting to school.

Lindsey Sharlow, an 8th grader from Westfield stated, “To see girls our age going through such struggles and then coming back with a plan to change the situation for girls around the world was empowering.”  Eighth grader Nadia Matin stated, “For the first time, I could actually see that the power of young feminists can change the world.” 

All of the presentations at the International Day of the Girl Speak Out at the United Nations were a reminder that through innovation and individual talent, young people can make a difference.  Eighth grader, Giovanna Sternberg noted, “When I looked around during the Speak Out, I noticed that the Westfield Chapters of Girls Learn International made up a good portion of the audience.  This made me aware of the big impact that young people from our very own town can have on the lives of others around the world through activism.”

The event was planned by the Working Group on Girls (of which GLI is a member organization) in conjunction with the missions of Canada, Peru and Turkey. The Working Group on Girls promotes the human rights of the girl in all areas and stages of her life.  This work is done through the inclusion and presence of girls in the United Nations system. 

Accompanying the Westfield students to the event were Westfield GLI advisors/teachers Karen Lust and Dominick Ceccio - Roosevelt; Tamara Yellin and Cecilia Valdes – Edison; and Westfield High School parent Judy Augustino, a chaperone for the event.  Sandra McCarthy, the GLI advisor the High School was unable to attend the Speak Out.

GLI first took root in Westfield in 2003 by its founder, former Board of Education member Lisa Alter.  Today through weekly or bi-weekly after school meetings, Westfield students learn about human rights and gender issues through engaging activities from a curriculum provided by GLI.  Students also communicate and exchange cultural projects with a partner school in a country where girls still lag behind boys in access to education.

The Westfield GLI chapters are partnered with Abdullah Bin Omar School in Afghanistan, and raise funds to support girls’ education initiatives at our partner school, such as covering tuition and purchasing school supplies.   Representatives from Westfield’s chapter network with other chapters around the country through webinars or Student Advisory Board Meetings held in New York City.  Over the past several years, select students from Westfield Chapters have acted as delegates to the United Nations for an entire week during the Commission on the Status of Women and have worked with young people from other countries and nongovernmental organizations to set policy related to women and girls.