Through recent tragic events in our country, we have seen the youth rise up as activists, and it’s only the beginning. We wanted to hear from two such teen activists, Leslie Arroyo and Tolani Smith about their important work with Girl Up, an organization that Darling champions. They empower girls from all backgrounds to advocate, fundraise, lead initiatives in their community, learn STEM, and become change-makers for girls everywhere. Today in Part I, we are hearing from Leslie and stay tuned for Part II tomorrow from Tolani. We promise, these bright young minds will help stir up a fire in you again to stand up for what you believe and advocate for change.
Q: How did you first learn about Girl Up, and why was it something that you knew you had to be a part of?
Leslie Arroyo: I first came across Girl Up in my freshman year in High School. I had recently read Malala Yousafzai’s book and was shocked to realize that so many girls around the world did not have the opportunity to get the education they rightfully deserved. I then realized that I had to be a voice for these girls such as Malala is. I knew I may have not wealth or much of a platform, but I had to find a way to make an impact in these girls’ lives and give them the education they rightfully deserved, and that is when I came across Girl Up. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that the nearest Girl Up club was more than an hour away. Although it made me upset, I was not surprised because I have grown up in a rural area with few resources for the entire youth population in my city. Nevertheless, I have always challenged this, and was determined to create the first Girl Up club in the area at my high school. After speaking with a few of my friends at school, we set out to establish the first Girl Up club in our area and it has grown to become one of the largest clubs in my high school.
Q: What do you do in your role as Teen Advisor?
LA: As a Teen Advisor, I am part of a diverse group that is composed of twenty-one girls who are passionate about making the world a better place for girls everywhere; we provide feedback to Girl Up and are central to their decision-making whether it is advocacy, fundraising, or communication. I myself am a part of the fundraising committee, and along with other Teen Advisors constantly work to provide resources so that Girl Up members all across the world can improve their fundraising skills. I also receive training from Girl Up through monthly calls and two in-person meetings but my biggest responsibility as a Teen Advisor though is to continue spreading and fueling the work of Girl up which I strive to do everyday.
Q: What are some things that your club has accomplished, and why are you proud of them?
LA: Ever since the inception my club has hosted a variety of events, but currently my club members and I are attempting to create a safe space for STEM initiatives. I am so proud of this because in my own school girls are not really encouraged to pursue math or science classes. For example, classes such as AP Physics only consist of about 2 or 3 girls, and I believe this needs to change. So what we are attempting to do with Girl Up is not only introduce STEM, but also allow the members to get a first hand experience of STEM skills by learning how to code and much more. We aim to combat the misconception that these careers are meant to be male dominated and instead allow these girls to learn more about STEM and realize that maybe after all they would enjoy a career in STEM. We want them to enjoy learning these skills and eventually take them and educate another girl and so on. Fortunately, this is possible due to one of my school’s math teachers, Ms Ramos, who is currently spearheading this initiative and has been present at several of my club’s meetings to show my members how to code and build up their skills in STEM. I am so proud of this initiative and how we are currently making this happen in a low income community in which initiatives such as this one are not common at all.
Q: What skills have you learned being a Teen Advisor and President of your Girl Up club that you’ll continue to use later in life?
LA: The skills I have acquired through Girl Up truly seem endless. I cannot emphasize the inclusivity of Girl Up such that I, a low income Latina, have always felt welcomed and was able to acquire this new level of confidence that I know is truly valuable and useful as I enter the next stages of life. Secondly, I have acquired advocacy skills, which I believe are imperative to have because it is through advocacy that change is implemented. I have also learned how to take leadership and organize fundraising events which is also a crucial skill. When it comes to organizing an event not only am I learning what it takes to do so, but also learning how to reach out to my own community and ask for their help or get them involved with the initiative. So I have definitely acquired communication and interpersonal skills, but also decision making and critical thinking skills as well. Lastly, it is through Girl Up that I have been expanding my STEM skills which I believe is also truly important, and I know that I can put these skills into use later in life. In conclusion, Girl Up has instilled in me so many leadership skills I cannot see myself gaining from any other place, and I am so thankful for making the decision to become involved with Girl Up in the first place.
Q: You started your Girl Up Club after recognizing a need in your area and setting out to solve it. Rather than settle for what was, you saw what could be. Where do you think that initiative in you comes from?
LA: I truly believe that initiative comes from my family in particular my parents. I grew up in a low income Mexican family in a very small city called Adelanto. Due to being a low-income area, there are very little resources and this has always made me feel as if I was missing out on opportunities I’d have if I lived elsewhere. However, as I grew older I realized that I am capable of doing great things no matter my background or where I was raised because my parents have instilled in me the initiative of not settling for what is, but instead working hard to create what could be. My parents came to the United States in a search for a better life, so as a First Generation Mexican-American I realize all the sacrifices my parents have made to get me to where I am today. I came to the conclusion that they themselves refused to settle for what was, but instead set out in search of a better life not only for themselves, but for their future family. Even though this was not an easy decision, my parents took it hoping that their children would grow up in a better place away from the continuous cycle of poverty and violence in Mexico, and I could not be any more proud of them for taking that decision. I continuously think about how hard it must have been for them to leave all their family behind and come to a new country, but they were determined to give us a better life. They were determined to not settle for what was, and although Adelanto is not the most ideal city to grow up in, I know that I am privileged to be here and truly have the ability to overcome any adversity present within my life. My parents without a doubt have instilled in me the initiative to set out and change what I believe needs to be changed instead of settling for what is. They inspire me to continue challenging and breaking down barriers no matter my circumstances. They have shown me that just because I might be in a low income community right now it does not mean I have to stay there, and just because 130 million girls are out of school at the moment it does not mean that it has to stay that way. Instead I can set out and make a difference in this world.
Images provided by Girl Up