Effecting change

UB Girl Effect aims to help oppressed girls worldwide receive education

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The Spectrum

Samah Asfour, a junior political science and global gender studies major, is a first-generation American. The rest of her family is in what she considers her homeland - Palestine - and due to political and social oppression, she said many of her family members don't have the opportunity to get an education.

"I'm basically dedicating my career to ensure that the next generations of my family still living in Palestine receive the same education that I have been blessed with here in the states," she said.

Asfour is the president of UB Girl Effect, a club on campus that works to promote female education in third-world countries in hopes of alleviating poverty.

Asfour believes she owes children around the world experiencing war and poverty her utmost effort to improve their situations - not just those in the Middle East.

The Girl Effect is a national movement that leverages adolescent girls' potential to end poverty for themselves, their families, communities, countries and the world, as stated on its website. It's "about making girls visible and changing their social and economic dynamics by providing them with specific, powerful and relevant resources," the website states.

This Sunday, the group is hosting the second annual "Night of Girl Power" in Norton 112, where the Royal Pitches, Buffalo Chips and slam poets will perform on the topic of female empowerment. Last semester, UB Girl Effect teamed up with the Royal Pitches to host the event and raised $250 to donate to the national Girl Effect movement. The club hopes to raise more money this year.

Asfour, Kerry McPhee, a junior political science and global gender studies major and vice president of Girl Effect, and junior political science and sociology major Samantha Vranic started the club on campus their freshman year. They were inspired by a YouTube video.

Many club members decided to join the movement after watching Girl Effect's "The Clock is Ticking," a three-minute YouTube video about young girls who live in poverty. The video, which was posted three years ago, has over 1.5 million views.

McPhee watched "The Clock is Ticking" before entering her freshman year at UB.

"From that [moment], I knew I had to bring [Girl Effect] to campus," McPhee said. "I learned that the situation for millions of girls worldwide is severe and, for that, I had to take action and help in any way I could."

McPhee's parents never attended college. Her father told her almost daily that education is the most important tool a person can have, she said. Her parents worked hard to ensure their children could have better lives than they did, according to McPhee.

"The UB Girl Effect raises awareness on the ever-present situation many girls face: the absence of education," McPhee said. "Due to cultural practices, girls are excluded from school based on the pure reasoning that they are girls. I find this completely unjust and have always pursued a passion in reaching equality for others."

For two years, McPhee worked at Journey's End Refugee Services in Buffalo teaching English as a second language. She found inspiration there from all the people who were yearning to learn in order to create a better life for themselves, and more importantly, their children, she said. Sometimes, she taught English to people much older than her; their enthusiasm for education inspired her even more.

"Education is key to reaching a more equal and peaceful society, and that is exactly what the UB Girl Effect preaches," she said.

Asfour said the club has come a long way in the past two years and it transformed from merely an idea into an actual club that affects the UB community.

"There will always be more we can do to raise awareness," Asfour said. "If you stop a person in the hall and ask if they know what the Girl Effect is, and they do, that would be a great step. Again, we are doing this for young girls in third-world countries. We must remind ourselves of this every day."

McPhee said "The Clock is Ticking" video is inspiring; it's what influenced her and Asfour to get involved with Girl Effect, and almost every time they play it to students, those watching want to know how they can help the cause.

McPhee said that's how the message usually starts. When Girl Effect club members show the video, viewers seem to automatically want to know what they can do to help. McPhee said that's when action starts - people make donations and help the club raise money for things like school desks, binders, papers and transportation.

Elif Capar, a senior legal studies major and member of the club, is passionate about Girl Effect's mission. She was born and raised in America, but her family is originally from Turkey. She said there are a few rural areas in Turkey that don't approve of educating women. She feels fortunate to have grown up in a family that supported educating women, so now, she's fighting for women's rights with the club.

"The majority of our meetings consist of planning and organizing events to raise awareness and donations to assist girls in developing countries," Capar said. "The rest of our meetings are composed of raising awareness between members of the UB Girl Effect and learning about different ways we can help."

Capar said club members also read to young girls who have just immigrated to Buffalo.

McPhee hopes to go to law school and obtain a degree in international and human rights law. She is an advocate for gender equality and wants to be a lawyer in the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

"My passion in life is to be an advocate in creating a gender-equal world," McPhee said. "As Hillary Clinton once said, 'I believe that the rights of women and girls is the most unfinished business of the 21st century.' And I could not agree more. My future goals relate directly to the goals of the UB Girl Effect."

Asfour said, in her opinion, the Israeli occupation of Palestine has affected people economically, so it's difficult for students to attend college. She hopes to help Palestinian girls, as well as oppressed girls worldwide, receive the proper education that her grandparents and family members might never be able to have.

They are two of the students dedicating their futures to ensuring girls worldwide are given the opportunity to receive an education - that's the mission of UB Girl Effect.

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