In 2006, I took my first trip for Americans for UNFPA – to Malawi to meet a woman significantly changing her community by promoting women (she's now the Vice President of country). Looking back through the last few years and everything I've learned from 10 amazing women, it's hard to remember what I knew and didn't know on that first trip. I do remember being overwhelmed by the differentness of it all.
So, it was interesting and rewarding for me to watch Nicole, our 2009 Student Award Winner, go through this experience for the first time – the shock, the fun, the fatigue, the stumbling through cultural norms and the experiences that are so good you wonder how you got so lucky to be at this place in this moment.
While I was busy directing our camera crew on Monday, Monira invited Nicole to dance with the women in a music therapy group. This was a rare and beautiful connection between a group of women who were unlikely ever to meet.
While it's pleasant to indulge in my part in bringing Nicole to this experience, the truth is that she brought herself to this moment. Refreshingly, Nicole is a self-identified feminist who understands violence against women as a symptom of the lower status women are afforded all over the world.
Nicole wrote a great essay for our Student Award contest in which she said, "I believe that in order to make a meaningful contribution, an individual must have the courage to transcend not only boundaries on a map, but also the boundaries our society has created…"
When I graduated from a Midwest college in 1989, it was considered worldly to backpack through Western Europe. I'm consistently delighted to meet young women, like Nicole (and probably all of you who've been following her blog) who feel so much a part of the world and have such a serious interest in women whose lives are so different from your own.
As always, we are grateful to Marie Claire for their dedication to women's empowerment and the opportunity to share the experiences of our student ambassadors through marieclaire.com. I hope Nicole's honesty and eloquence brought a small part of her experience to you and that she inspired you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Most of all, I hope it has encouraged you to get involved in the challenges that affect women around the world. You can start by declaring your support.