Odunola Ojewumi is the Marie Claire and United Nations Population Fund winner of the fourth annual Americans for UNFPA Student Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. Ola, a sophomore from the University of Maryland College Park, is blogging directly from her weeklong visit to Guatemala.
As a student in high school, my dreams and achievements have centered on finding ways and means of helping others. I have always envisioned a world free of domestic violence, gender equality, and fair access to maternal health resources. My goal is to attend law school, and eventually work in public policy to lobby for international human rights. My one year of service as a student ambassador for Americans for UNFPA has brought my dreams from mere fantasies to a reality.
I come from Beltsville, Maryland, a small city outside of Washington D.C. I never dreamed of winning a national award, let alone a trip to travel outside the United States. The award came as a shock to me and my family, and as I type this first blog entry ahead of my trip, I am still pinching myself to prove that this is real.
I am a bit nervous, anxious, and excited about traveling with Americans for UNFPA. This will be my first time traveling to Central America, and I am eager about the information I will learn there. Guatemala is a beautiful country that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean — a country graced with an astounding Mayan history and architecture, yet scarred with a staggering percentage of people living below the poverty line. Guatemala is a developing nation with social problems that have carried on for decades.
Within Guatemala, many young women do not receive an education past the age of primary school. I am honored to have the opportunity to meet with Marta Ruiz, winner of the 2010 Americans for UNFPA Award for the Health and Dignity of Women. Marta is being honored for her personal commitment to young women. In response to the urgent need for the education of young women, she established a school for young girls in Guatemala City. The denial of an education due to gender is one of the largest forms of discrimination globally. These practices keep women in positions of impoverishment because they are stopped from succeeding before they reach the age of majority. With the help of UNFPA, Marta keeps her school active, and emphasizes the role an access to education places on the young women of our generation. From what I have read about her methods of empowerment and engagement, I am thrilled to be witnessing this first-hand and am sure it will be an eye-opening experience.
I already get the sense that Dr. Ruiz embodies the spirit of activism I wish to emulate in my own life. Her willingness to take a stand against social norms that place people at a disadvantage represents the true meaning of strength in leadership. My trip will not be about what I can learn from meeting leaders like her, but what I can do to prolong the spirit of leadership left behind by women like her. It is how we, the youth of America, can inspire change by standing together as Americans for UNFPA.
I hope that my blog will inspire Marie Claire readers to seek ways to become involved in the fight for international women's rights.