“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.”
Girls have the power to create change. By making changes in their own lives, they can influence the lives of their families, their friends, their communities, their countries and their world.
This past summer, I saw firsthand the power that education gives to girls.
On average, teenage girls use 17 personal care products per day; this is five more than the average U.S. adult woman. Furthermore, 16 chemicals with potentially harmful health effects were found in blood and urine samples of 20 teenage girls, aged 14-19.
This information comes from a 2008 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, and it is eye opening to say the least.
In an effort to educate girls on the potentially harmful effects that can result from the use of some personal care products, Women for a Healthy Environment started the Teens on the Eco Scene program.
Through this program, I have had (and still have!) the awesome opportunity to work with girls in the Pittsburgh community. Not only do I educate girls on how to make safer consumer choices, but I also educate them on the importance of healthy food habits.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to spend five weeks at the Hosanna House, working with 25 girls from Gwen’s Girls.
I went into the Hosanna House prepared with my facts and curriculum, but for much as I educated the girls on safe personal care products and healthy food, they taught me just as much in return. Most of the material that I shared with the girls was new to them, but their ideas, thoughts, and opinions were new to me. Throughout their lives they had been given products and food by their families and friends and had assumed that it was healthy and good for them. Once educated on potential health risks and provided with safer alternatives (some that they could even make themselves), there was a real willingness to not only change their own lives, but to share the information with people they care about.
Before meeting Gwen’s Girls, I really did not know if my message would be accepted. Do girls care about these issues? In a group setting, will they be too intimidated to openly participate in discussions? Will they think choosing the safer alternatives are not “cool” and stick with the cultural norms of their communities?
When four out of seven girls rejected the notion of eating any vegetable, I felt dispirited at the prospect of the group liking the fresh salsa that we were making that day. An hour later, after everyone had completed their part in making the salsa, the girls could not believe how delicious it tasted. Even the girls that had initially rejected vegetables announced that they loved it and could not believe they were eating tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. When I overheard three girls talking about how they could not wait to go home and make the salsa for their families, I knew that they had been empowered by education. It only took one hour for them to not only find something healthy that they liked, but also something healthy that they could make themselves. The summer continued this way. Every week and almost every topic created an awareness in the girls, followed by an enthusiasm to change.
Education gave the girls in the Gwen’s Girls summer program the power to create a healthier world. The Day of the Girl celebrates the power all girls possess. Education gives girls the tools that they need to harness this power and create a just world where girls are appreciated and valued.
-by Chelsea Holmes
Intern, Women for a Healthy Environment