MC: Tell us a little about how you came to win an Americans for UNFPA's Student Award and what it has meant for you.
Michaela Maynard: In college, I had always been really interested in health and medicine, but near the end of my time at the University of Rhode Island, I became very interested in public and reproductive health. There was an announcement in the honors department about the award and I applied for it; I was amazed that I won! Afterward, I traveled to Malawi with a group of other delegates and toured the programs there that the UNFPA supports. I've been happy to be a part of their work ever since.
Fatima Hassan: I grew up in Cady, Texas, but my family is originally from Somalia. I found out about Americans for UNFPA while I was studying at Stanford, and I was interested in how culturally sensitive approaches can be implemented to help communities overseas. After winning the award, I got to travel to Uganda and Rwanda and see a lot of the projects that the UNFPA is involved in and came away even more inspired to help than I was before. I've since graduated from Stanford and am working for UNFPA in Geneva.
Nicole Paprocki: I have always been interested in medicine and women's issues, but I never thought to put them together until I started college at Loyola University in Chicago. I found out about the award and for two years I thought I had no chance of winning it. Even last year, when I applied, I thought, 'This is way out of my league.' I'm very blessed to have received this honor and had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to see first hand how this organization is changing lives.
MC: How do you think we can create change while still being sensitive to the cultural differences that exist between any two countries?
NP: One of the things that I noticed when I went to Bangladesh was that Americans sometimes have the mindset that they know the way that a given program should be run or that we always need to be the ones facilitating these programs. But when you travel, you find out that it's the people there that really know the root of the problem they're facing and are the ones with the most power to effect change.
FH: It's important to realize that we're not there to do what we want to do; we're there to do what the community wants us to do. Culturally sensitive programming doesn't mean creating projects in the boardroom; it has to incorporate local leaders and bring their ideas into play. We should always take a stand against social injustice, but we're not going to make any traction on these issues unless we really partner with local communities.
MC: You're all interested in global women's health issues. With all the controversy over health-care reform in this country, how do you think we can awaken American women to the fact that there are women all over the world whose health-care needs are not being met?
FH: The fact that this issue is so prevalent in the United States, as well as abroad, just goes to show how important health care is. I really hope that the struggle for health-care reform in the U.S. reawakens this idea that access to basic health care is a fundamental human right, no matter what country you're from.
MM: A struggle is a struggle no matter where you are. In Malawi, the struggle is a bit different because you're dealing with women who may not even be allowed to make the decisions about their own health — their husband may be making those decisions for them.
MC: I suppose a lot of people would describe you three as feminists. What does it mean to be a young feminist these days?
NP: As "young feminists" we are starting to look more globally and see even though we have achieved a certain level of equality here in the U.S., the social gains we have made are not necessarily shared throughout the world.
FH: I think we should refashion "feminism" so that everyone can be a feminist in their own way. We should move beyond the prescribed image of the "bra-burning feminist" and the sort of "it has to be my way" kind of feminism that's associated with the word.
MM: I don't know if I'd actually say I'm a feminist. I believe in women and I believe in their rights – maybe that automatically makes me a feminist. What I think is important is to be open-minded and to be proactive in learning about global issues. In Malawi, I met women who were empowered were finding new ways to care for themselves and for their families.
Want to apply? Americans for UNFPA wants students to witness UNFPA's programs firsthand. In addition to the trip of a lifetime, we are offering a $1,000 scholarship and the opportunity to blog about your trip on MarieClaire.Com. Apply at student.americansforunfpa.org. Contest ends on December 10.
[Photo: MC's Jihan with the winners]