Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, January 18, 2019

From AU to the UN: alumnae raising funds for girls’ education

AU alumnae use Kickstarter to raise thousands to educate girls across the globe.

From AU to the UN: alumnae raising funds for girls’ education

#GIRLWITHABOOK founders Shareef (left) and Curl (right) meet girls' education activist Malala Yousafzai (center). Courtesy #GIRLWITHABOOK

Correction and clarification appended.

After launching a women’s rights campaign, two AU alumni are developing a new program to fund international excursions to help educate about the barriers to girls' education around the world.

Olivia Curl, a 2014 graduate of the School of International Service, and Lena Shareef, a 2011 School of Communication graduate, met almost five years ago during Curl's freshman year. The two bonded over frustrations concerning the gender inequality they experienced while studying abroad in separate areas of the world.

“While abroad [In Jordan], if I was outside my apartment, I was being harassed by men, Curl said. “It wasn’t just me.”

Launched on March 2, their Kickstarter is the result of months of planning and networking, Shareef said. With the money from their $40,000 fundraising goal on the site, Shareef and Curl plan to visit South and Central Asia, engaging public figures about girls’ education issues.

“We want support from AU. There’s Starbucks on campus everywhere where students can get their $4 coffee,” Curl said concerning how much she expects students to donate to the project. “That’s what we’re asking for.”

When school-age Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in 2012, the Curl and Shareef, feeling helpless, teamed up and created a project that would become known as #GIRLWITHABOOK.

Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history, was persecuted for her efforts to promote girls’ education in Pakistan.

“I talk to people on a daily basis who don’t know who Malala is,” Curl said. “The thing about girls’ education is you need everyone on board.”

#GIRLWITHABOOK began as a few social media posts by Curl and Shareef with signs that read “I Stand With Malala.

“We both just started posting pictures of ourselves with books, and our friends would do the same,” Shareef said.

Their project gained a large following quickly.

“The Half the Sky movement retweeted one of our tweets, and it just exploded,” Shareef said, referring to the gender equality group run by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff.

After Half the Sky recognized #GIRLWITHABOOK, more high-profile figures started to participate, including author Paulo Coelho, one of many individuals from various areas of expertise selected by the UN to promote the UN’s work.

The two then decided to take the hundreds of pictures they received from women around the world and compiled them into printed books. Having hard copies of the books, according to Curl, was a big step in legitimizing their project to the outside world.

Their book was published via Shutterfly, a self-publishing service, but Shareef and Curl had to get the book to one crucial reader.

“We really wanted to get the book to Malala, just so she would know the role she played in all of this,” Curl said.

In August 2014, the two were invited to attend a conference hosted by the United Nations, where Malala would be a featured guest. After the conference, they were able to meet her.

“We had collected this global support in the form of images and handed it off to the girl we wanted to see it most of all,” Curl said.  “But of course, that wasn't the end, it was really the beginning of #GIRLWITHABOOK's most exciting adventures.”

After this celebrity meeting, Shareef and Curl’s goal of spreading awareness about girls’ education in areas of the world they deem most important remains the same. This is just the first step of many, according to the two. 

“Just because we know about the issue of girls’ education doesn’t mean everyone does,” Shareef said.

Clarification: The article was updated to reflect that the Kickstarter is to help inform about barriers to education for girls.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the graduation years of both Curl and Shareef. 

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