A young entrepreneur decided to take on the issue of female gendercide head-on by helping girls across the world to improve their conditions through education.
by Aisiri Amin
A powerful documentary usually lingers on our mind longer than usual but eventually as the day progresses, replaced by mundane activities, it slips out through the crevices of our mind. But not for Susanna Manziaris. The twenty-something watched the life-changing documentary, It’s a Girl and couldn’t get it out of her head.
It shook her in the way that a soul needs to be shaken in order to inspire change. Finally, in 2013, she founded GirlsHelpingGirls to “raise the status of women one girl at a time.” Today, she is building schools for hundreds of girls, making sure women are seen as equal to men and she is on her way to put an end to female gendercide, the systematic killing of baby girls around the world.
Susanna Manziaris talks to INKLINE about GirlsHelpingGirls, addressing inequality through education, and how each one of us can bring about change.
INKLINE: How did GirlsHelpingGirls come about? What was the idea behind it?
SUSANNA MANZIARIS: I founded GirlsHelpingGirls when I was in Grade 10. I came across the documentary It’s a Girl, which highlights the practice of female gendercide.
According to the United Nations, over 100 million girls are “missing” from the world today due to this practice. I was shocked by what I saw, and I felt compelled to create awareness. What started out as a small awareness campaign in Toronto quickly grew into a holistic effort to end gendercide. After an immense amount of research, I realized that the key to ending gendercide is through education.
We began raising money to send girls to school in order for them to be seen as valuable members of their society, community.
I: Tell us more about how Girls Helping Girls tackles Gendercide?
S: GirlsHelpingGirls tackles gendercide through our ‘Three Prong Approach to Education’ which includes building schools, training teachers, and creating scholarships. We began building schools in order to provide our students with a safe, and sanitary learning environment.
This would ensure our students would attend school even while menstruating, as it is not uncommon for girls to skip school for one week every month. This is very disruptive to learning and can also make girls feel isolated. Our schools are also very bright and inviting, which makes the classrooms fun and inspiring.
Secondly, GirlsHelpingGirls trains teachers, so they are able to fully support their students and deliver their lessons in the most effective manner to the students. These teachers are taught how to build a robust and challenging curriculum, while also incorporating fun activities to keep the students engaged.
Finally, GirlsHelpingGirls provides scholarships to students in order for them to attend school without imposing an out of pocket expense on their family. With every scholarship, our students are given the materials necessary, such as all the required books, a backpack full of school supplies, and transportation to and from school.
I: Can you tell us about your organisation’s application and selection process?
S: When selecting our students, we work closely with our partner organization to identify potential candidates. The students we primarily select have a strong desire to continue to pursue their studies and have a strong family network that values education. We support students of all ages and commit to them for their entire education.
Our students, like any student around the world, sometimes struggle with their classes or a particular subject matter. In these situations, we will provide the funding for extra tutoring or assistance in order for the student to persevere and continue their education.
I: Tell us about some of your current projects.
S: Our current projects include supporting students in Kenya, South Africa, Jamaica, and Haiti, along with teacher training in Afghanistan. Our newest project will be dedicated to supporting unaccompanied migrant refugee girls in Athens, Greece. GirlsHelpingGirls has partnered with the HOME Project, a grassroots Athenian organization, in order to construct a shelter that will provide education, psychological support, and language skills.
I: You and your sister Linda joined hands in creating 25 scholarships for girls in countries such as Haiti and Afghanistan, built three schools in Jamaica and provided teacher training in Afghanistan. How did that happen?
S: Our journey began when my sister and I joined forces in order to create a social enterprise designed to support girls’ education. Linda and I, saw the benefit an education can have in the life of a young girl, and we wanted to do something that would ensure more girls got the opportunity to attend school. It was very organic how we started, but people liked that with every purchase, they would be supporting girls’ education around the world.
I: What has been the most uplifting part of this journey?
S: The most uplifting part of this journey has been connecting with our students around the world, and completing our school build projects in Jamaica. Being able to track the development of our students is an extremely rewarding process, as they are meeting their goals and striving for their long-term goals.
Completing our school build projects was also extremely rewarding as I and our over 70 volunteers got to present the opening of the school to the community. The opening of the school was a truly memorable experience and something that I hope I will be able to continue for many years to come!
I: What has been the most challenging part?
S: The most challenging part of this entire journey has been ensuring that we are partnering with reputable organizations on the ground. We want to ensure that all the dollars being raised are being directed to our students and that they are receiving the highest quality education.
In order to uphold this commitment to our donors, we ask for quarterly updates on our students and keep in touch with the leadership of our partner organizations. The work of GirlsHelpingGirls would not be possible if it was not for the amazing organizations we collaborate with.
I: In many parts of the world, women are seen as a burden, not as an equal part of the society. You are one of change makers who has been working towards changing the scenario. Do you see the change happening?
S: I believe that we as a society are well on our way to making this change happen. There is an increase in awareness surrounding the benefits of educating girls, which has resulted in more girls attending school. Despite all the improvements, we still have a long way to go.
It is not uncommon to hear about acid attacks, female genital mutilation, gendercide, and girls being killed or kidnapped for simply attending school. For these reasons, GirlsHelpingGirls is committed to creating awareness and executing our systems approach to educating girls around the world.
I: To all the entrepreneurs who have a burning passion within them, what advice would you give them?
S: From a business perspective, the advice I would give is, first, determine if there is a need for your product or service in the market, before investing in equipment infrastructure. It is important to make your first sale and see how the customer utilizes what you are offering them. Be open to suggestion, but be sure to craft and maintain your own style.
Furthermore, I also recommend incorporating philanthropy in your work. My sister and I learned that by supporting others you are giving a deeper meaning to each and every purchase. This has made our work extremely rewarding and multi-faceted.
From a philanthropic perspective, I think it is important to find something that bothers you or makes you feel uncomfortable. For example, I just stumbled on the topic of gendercide, and the images and articles left a deep impression on me, it made me want to tell people about it.
If you can find something that makes you want to do something, then just go for it. Start telling your friends, family, and community about it. You will soon want to learn more and start implementing strategies to address the problem. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and be bold in your thinking.
Aisiri Amin is a journalist specialising in social justice, gender issues and culture. She has written for The Hindu and works as a freelance writer. Social wallflower and an idealist at the core, she lives on books, tea and hope (in that particular order).