Sunday, June 17, 2012

First week!!

After frustrating health setbacks, I am finally ready to start my summer blog! Last week I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards. Presented every year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Awards honor a group of women who are, as described on the Vital Voices website, the “unsung heroines working to strengthen our democracy. This event marked the 15th anniversary of the Awards, which were initiated in Vienna, Austria.
The night was truly inspirational. I found myself backstage at the famous Kennedy Center, and remembered the countless times that I had sat in the audience of the very same room to watch the Nutcracker every December. Yet this show was very different than the annual Nutcracker performances. Instead of watching tutus and Christmas trees, I listened to the inspirational stories of nine women who have made drastic steps to cause social change across the world. I would love to share each and every one of these amazing stories, but that would lead to an excessively long blog post. Instead, I will describe the lives of two of the honorees.

Samar Minallah Khan is a Pakistani Pashtun filmmaker and anthropologist who has devoted the past decade of her life to ending “Swara,” a devastating Pakistani practice in which girls are given away to settle family disputes. Samar collected countless footage throughout Pakistan and, in 2003, presented her documentary on Swara. Samar caused widespread awareness of this horrific tradition and in 2004 Swara was made illegal. 

Manal Alsharif is a Saudi Arabian woman who defied longstanding tradition when she drove on the open streets of Saudi Arabia and posted a video of her act on youtube. In Saudi Arabia, women are prohibited from driving, by custom. While there is no law against female driving, Manal was imprisoned after her video went viral. She was instantly named “the Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia,” and began a social media movement called Women2Drive.

The ceremonies were an amazing way to jumpstart my experience at Vital Voices. I quickly realized that I have mounds to learn about all of the social abuses across the world and the amazing women who have devoted their lives to helping others. I went home that night and browsed the Vital Voices website until I fell asleep. 

In the office, I am assisting with the follow up from the Awards Ceremony and helping my supervisors to prepare for an upcoming conference in South Africa. On my first day, I attended an all-staff meeting in which the president of Vital Voices herself thanked an intern for her work at the ceremonies. The energy in the office is palpable and my supervisors are constantly checking in on the interns with new assignments.

During my down time, I have wandered the streets of DC, which also happens to be my childhood home. I went to the gay pride festival last week, snuck up to the roof of St. Albans this weekend (which parallels the National Cathedral and offers an amazing view of the DC skyline), and hiked Great Falls today. It has been a great start to the summer, and I will check back in soon!!