Cindy Rahrle, who planned this wonderful and inspiring event on the theme “The Power of One Girl,” welcomed the girls and adults to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Liverpool. The program was sponsored by Women Transcending Boundaries and InterFaith Works’ El-Hindi Center for Dialogue.
Girls from various schools and churches were seated at round tables; ladies from WTB and the church shared a table as the program began. Inspirational statements and decorations brightened the hall, and each table held a snack basket.
Ella Neville, SUNY Cortland student, spoke about her experiences with Seeds of Peace and Letters of Love. She explained how she became involved with Seeds of Peace and how her participation in Seeds of Peace Camp (as a camper and now a counselor) has changed her life and taught her how to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Ella is also active in Letters of Love, in which teenagers write and send letters to other kids in trying circumstances (such as residents of refugee camps or victims of violence). She urged girls to get involved and shared a motto she lives by: “Do whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are.”
Nancy Waterbury, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Young Women Youth President, led an icebreaker. Girls tossed a ball around a circle; as she caught the ball each said her name, school, and one way she could make a difference. Adults also formed a circle and tossed a ball, sharing information about their lives.
Cindy introduced the keynote speaker, Yassin Sarr Fox, director of Starfish International in The Gambia, West Africa. Cindy commented on Yassin’s energy and faith in co-founding Starfish International. When Yassin identified her dream to empower girls in the village in which she had grown up, she returned to The Gambia to found a school that supports their education. Yassin believes “If you do the right thing for the right reason, things will work out. Just remember, even if you fail, you tried and that is what counts.”
When Yassin reached the podium, she decided that rather than deliver her prepared speech, she would interview her 12-year-old daughter, Mary, about what she has learned being raised by activist parents committed to service. Her daughter was self-possessed, articulate, thoughtful and inspirational. She spoke of “failing forward”—you learn the best when you try something that doesn’t work. She has two small business (doing nails and selling all-natural beauty products) that earn her money to be independent. She feels that service to others enriches the person giving the service as much as it benefits the person receiving help. She stressed that it is important for girls to “know your spirit, know yourself.” For example, if you know in your heart that you are not green, then you can keep your happiness no matter who says you are green. This summer she will serve others volunteering at the Starfish library and teaching 6th grade Starfish girls to do their nails.
Yassin thanked her daughter and explained that you can be most powerful as a girl if you know yourself and use those qualities to serve others. Identify a need in your community and determine how you can address that need. First you must discover yourself—then you find happiness when you look beyond yourself. Each day think:this is what I am going to do today to make life better for others, to develop my skills, to like myself. Yassin advised the girls to list five things you like about yourself that are true of you and post in a place you will see them every day. How can you use these qualities to fill a need in your community? This is the way to find happiness. No matter how small you feel or how small you feel your role on this planet is, we need your effort to make our goal as humanity. Find what your role is and fulfill it—this will bring you happiness.
Nancy mixed up the girls at different tables for facilitated dialogues. Adults not involved in facilitating were at a separate table at which Yassin answered our questions about how she came to found Starfish, its mission, and operation.
Next Dynah Umutoni, a senior at Henninger High School involved with Seeds of Peace, Interfaith and Police/Community groups, and recent winner of a Racial Justice Award, spoke about her experiences coming to this country as a refugee and Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace camp was transformative in that she was able to dialogue with teens from all over the world—they became like a family. Dynah shared a quote she lives by: “Running away from a problem only increases the distance to the solution. The easiest way to end a problem is to find a solution.”
Helen Hudson, President of Syracuse’s Common Council, founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence, Co-founder of Trauma Response, and co-Chair of Hope (working on ending poverty in Syracuse), spoke about being a change agent—someone who starts a change and makes a difference one step at a time. She spoke about how impressed she was with the girls at her dialogue table and said that Girl Power can lead the way. “Our role [as girls and women] is anything we want it to be. Our job as adults is to shepherd and mentor you.” Ms. Hudson urged the girls present to consider applying for Youth Advisory Committee (open to all youth in Onondaga County), a group which will advise the Syracuse Common Council.
The group then broke up and gathered around five tables where we all cut and tied 17 warm fleece blankets in memory of the 17 young people killed in the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. Helen Hudson accepted the blankets on behalf of Trauma Response; they will be used to comfort those in distress.
We gathered in a circle and Cindy closed the formal activities with a closing prayer from Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day is an opportunity to make a difference in the world.