Uniting across nations
Two first-year students establish a Brandeis chapter of GirlUp
A new club that aims to support and empower women worldwide has materialized here at Brandeis. The club is a local chapter of the GirlUp campaign of the United Nations Foundation, an organization separate from the United Nations itself that aims to connect the U.N. with outside organizations to help effect change. The goal of the Brandeis chapter is to fundraise money for the missions of the campaign and to raise awareness for the issues that women face globally through thoughtful discussions and events.
When Sarah Khimjee ’19 moved to New York from Pune, India four years ago, she was determined to continue making a positive impact in her home country but didn’t know exactly how. When her freshman year high school English teacher told her about GirlUp, she saw it as a medium through which to make real change in the world.
Along with another student and the English teacher, Khimjee founded a GirlUp club at her high school and maintained it for four years, even serving as a teen advisor for the international organization during her senior year. Now, Khimjee and fellow first-year Rachel Groth ’19 have co-founded a Brandeis chapter.
Groth had not heard of GirlUp before coming to Brandeis, but in an interview with the Justice she explained that she “fell in love with it right away” after Khimjee informed her of the organization and its mission.
The club was chartered last semester and has had several meetings so far — each drawing large crowds. “We were surprised about how successful it was,” Groth said. “It honestly warmed my heart to see how many people cared, because not only did people show up, but they genuinely participated in the conversation about the issues and goals for the club.”
Khimjee agreed. “I think it was a huge change from what it was like in high school, because in high school we had to ask people to be involved and there were a few people who were genuinely involved with it, but the majority of people were just there.”
Khimjee, the president, and Groth, the vice president, along with event coordinators Sabrina Carrero ’19, Gabriela Calcano ’19, Gabriela Astaiza ’19, treasurer Karina Meythaler ’19, and secretary Andrews Figueroa ’19, conducted a successful fundraiser as their first event — a mac and cheese and grilled cheese delivery that brought in over $400 in funds to set aside to develop GirlUp’s Brandeis chapter and to donate directly to the GirlUp foundation. They hope to conduct similar fundraisers in the coming semesters as well as performance-based events, such as open mic nights and poetry slams.
Among a host of initiatives, Groth and Khimjee hope to raise funds for SchoolCycle, a GirlUp program which provides bikes to girls in Guatemala, where sometimes the only obstacle facing a girl who wants an education is her physical distance from the school. “We always say that it seems like such a small thing to give someone a bicycle, but it can completely change their lives because it actually allows them to get to school and then possibly have a future job,” said Groth.
They are also passionate about working towards making child marriage illegal, as this would open up the door for more women to receive educations, be more economically independent and generally have more control over their lives. Groth noted that Guatemala recently banned child marriage, which she called exciting, especially since Guatemala is one of the countries that GirlUp partners with and fundraises for, along with Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi and India.
Groth and Khimjee stressed that all genders are welcome to the club’s meetings, though women have been coming more often than men. They say they’ve even been questioned as to whether boys are allowed to join the club.
“We know there are a lot of men here who care about these issues, but they’re just afraid to speak up about it, or they think that they can’t speak up about it,” said Groth. “But that’s not true at all.”
In terms of the future of the club, the two co-founders are dreaming big. “We have really high expectations for the club, and we know it’ll probably take a while to get there, but reach for the stars, right?” Khimjee laughed.
An eventual goal for the club is to fund trips to national GirlUp events, such as lobbying on Capitol Hill. GirlUp recently helped pass the Girls Count Act, which was approved unanimously by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama. The act states that the U.S. will help to implement programs abroad that make it easier for girls to get birth certificates.
Khimjee also hopes that the members of the club can eventually attend national events such as leadership summits sponsored by GirlUp and the annual Social Good Summit that GirlUp was a part of along with other organizations. GirlUp has many celebrity “champions,” including Disney and Nickelodeon stars Monique Coleman and Victoria Justice, who actively volunteer abroad and speak about issues affecting women worldwide at the events GirlUp sponsors.
On a more local scale Khimjee and Groth hope to collaborate with other Boston area chapters of GirlUp, including one at Wellesley College that they have already been in contact with. They also want to explore the possibility of collaborating with Bentley University so that GirlUp can get more involved within the Waltham community. Khimjee works at the Department of Community Service at Brandeis and wants to use her position to help GirlUp connect with community service clubs.
In the upcoming semester, GirlUp will meet on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. in room 313 of the Shapiro Student Center.
Groth’s one piece of advice for young girls would be “to always stand up for what they believe in and never let their dreams perish because of their gender.” Khimjee echoed that sentiment, saying, “there’s always going to be someone who’s not going to appreciate or accept or agree with what you do, but if that’s what you truly believe in, then that’s what you do.”