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  • Articles, Book Review, Books, GirlSpring.com, Human Trafficking

    Review: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

    Half the Sky

    I read the nonfiction work Half the Sky a couple of years ago as a part of a summer reading assignment. Its content blew my mind. Husband and wife team of journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn touch on the many injustices faced by women internationally, a subject I was only briefly aware of prior to reading. 

    Raised in a safe community with trustworthy parents and adults surrounding me, I haven’t personally experienced many of the situations and lifestyles that the authors detail in the novel. However, I feel that it is important for everyone to learn about the oppression that many women worldwide experience. Awareness allows us to work together and end these injustices. 

    What I Loved

    My favorite aspects of the book were the nature in which the authors gathered information and the structure of the writing. Kristof and WuDunn not only did extensive literary research on the topics they investigated, but they actually traveled to several third world countries and interacted with the women there. The book is a series of interwoven essays and anecdotes that discuss the authors’ observations during their travels. It also highlights the personal stories that they gathered from the women they spoke to. In my opinion, the first-person narrative and anecdotal evidence were what made this book so stimulating and captivating.

    Half the Sky is divided into three main parts. The first third of the book focuses on sexual abuses faced by women around the globe. Then, the second third focuses on childbirth and family planning. Finally, the last third is all about education, micro-businesses, and the actions readers can take to help. Each section is filled with small anecdotes, commentary, and additional research that captivate readers as they make their way through the book. 

    The Book’s First Part: Human Trafficking

    In the first third of the book, readers are taken to a small village in Cambodia. Here, the harrowing realities of human trafficking are unveiled. I was shocked and heartbroken to hear that in this part of the world (and in several other countries), it is commonplace for girls as young as eight or nine years old to be captured and traded. These girls are stuck in a very abusive environment for a large portion of their lives. They must obey their master’s commands and remain completely shut away from their families and the rest of society.

    For many of these women, the contraction of HIV/AIDS is common and equivalent to a death sentence. For others, getting kicked out after youthfulness fades is customary. They are then left to fend for themselves in society. This is an incredibly difficult task given that they have been taken far from their families and the communities they grew up in. To make matters worse, they usually have minimal education since they were captured at such a young age.

    Kristof and WuDunn interviewed several young girls, and their stories are included. These personal anecdotes are an absolute must-read and are so incredibly emotional and intriguing. In this section, I also loved learning about organizations that help save the lives of women who have been trafficked through monetary, educational, and other forms of support.

    The Second Part of the Book: Limited Medical Access

    In the second part, the lack of doctors and medical personnel in third world countries is highlighted. One anecdote that stood out to me was that of a woman from Cameroon who was unable to give birth due to a blocked cervix. The birthing attendant decided that sitting on the woman’s stomach and jumping up and down would help. This ruptured the woman’s uterus, causing more problems. Living in the United States, many of us trust our health care providers and receive quality care from trained professionals. It was mind-opening to learn about the consequences of a lack of education. This section of the book taught me many important lessons about the power and value of humanity.

    The Final Section: Micro-Businesses

    The final section of the book was, in my opinion, the most optimistic. I learned about the concept of micro-businesses. Within these, women are given a small amount of money from a donor that they then use as an investment to start their own business. They are very powerful because they allow women to rebuild their lives and feel empowered after hard experiences such as trafficking and childbirth issues. Additionally, organizations that are offering resources for women are mentioned and several actions readers can take are detailed.

    Final thoughts

    Half the Sky was overall a very informative and thought-provoking read. This book really helps garner a better understanding of the oppression and injustices that some women around the world experience on a day-to-day basis. I highly recommend that everyone read this at some point in their life. If you are interested in learning more and/or taking action, visit http://www.halftheskymovement.org/.

    To learn more about Human Trafficking click here. If you or someone that you know is a victim of human trafficking, call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.

  • Articles, GirlSpring.com, Home Life, Lifestyle, Relationships

    How to Make Your Parents Proud

    parents

    Many of the parents I know, including my own, give everything for their children. My parents allow me to go on endless adventures and support me through any opportunities I have. They let me study abroad for the summer, they are allowing me to go to residential school for the next two years, and they are always positive lights in my life. The least I can do is strive to make them proud, right?

    Growing up, I had ideas of what my parents expected from me. Regardless of the amount of truth in these ideas, I agreed with some… but was extremely confused by others. I thought they wanted me to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a lawyer. Or that my mom wanted me to stay close to home and my dad didn’t want me to ever grow up.

    Me with my dad

    I didn’t know who I wanted to be, because I wanted to be who they wanted.

    I don’t know where I got these ideas because my parents have always been supportive and encouraging in everything I do. Is it even possible to make your parents proud if you don’t grow up to be like them? I wasn’t sure at the time. But yes, it certainly is possible.

    My ideas of my parents’ expectations couldn’t be farther from the truth. My parents always wanted me to be whatever I wanted, with a few actual expectations. They taught me that I could be whoever I wanted to be, as long as I was kind, hardworking, generous, and had integrity. Honestly, I am ashamed that it took me so long to realize what they were doing. They want the best for me, but they wanted me to make mistakes. They allowed me to learn on my own, probably because they knew I wouldn’t listen if they told me directly. My parents never truly placed any expectations for my future, because they want me to be independent.

    I have to figure out my own life, with their guidance, because it is mine, after all.

    My mom and dad’s goal is for me, and my brothers, to be happy, healthy, and love what we are doing. It’s that simple. Although, it’s cliché, it’s true, all you have to do to make your parents proud is be yourself. If I would’ve spent my life trying to make my parents happy, I would’ve missed the opportunities I had to accomplish things that truly make them proud. It is important for me to fulfill my own expectations, with the help of my parents. I take everything I am given to the fullest potential and hope that I can add to their pride, through doing what I feel is right.

    Parents should let their children live their own lives, let children make decisions, and fail sometimes. I know my parents enjoy watching what I can accomplish independently, after learning from them my whole life. I experience whatever is on my own path, regardless of what is on the paths beside me. Dreams have to be fulfilled by the dreamer. You can’t live someone else’s dream for them. The only way to succeed is to follow your own dreams, and have the ones you love support you along the way.

    Spend time with your parents and family! Here are some ways that you can grow closer this summer.

  • Articles, Body Image, Confidence, GirlSpring.com, Health, Lifestyle

    5 Small Tips for Loving Yourself More

    body confidence

    Everyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’ve struggled with my body confidence throughout my whole life. My extra pounds and my acne when I was younger, being taller and bigger than everyone, maybe too muscular when I used to weightlift or having no muscles at all now that I’m recovering from an injury. There’s always something to complain about my body or the way that I look… I can never be truly satisfied. 

    These past few months, after a guy that I was seeing decided to end our relationship because he “couldn’t love me if I didn’t love me”, I’ve decided to change the pattern. See, since I had been feeling the same thing for almost 22 years and it wasn’t helping me at all. Maybe it was time to try something else! And I still don’t know how, but I’ve managed to make huge changes in my confidence. So what better way to celebrate these changes than to share them with everyone else?

    Here are 5 small tips that I’ve used to accept and care for myself more:

    1. Tell the voice in your head to shut up. I know… It’s like every time I look at myself in the mirror, or I see myself in a picture, there’s an instant voice yelling “ugh… disgusting!” Well, it’s time to make a conscious effort to shut it down. I understand it will be hard, but try covering it up with positive thoughts such as “I look amazing!” “I feel great!” At first, it might seem unnatural, but after a while, you can revert the habit.
    2. Take a look at your beautiful self in the mirror. If you feel uncomfortable with yourself, it’s highly likely that you avoid seeing yourself in a mirror. I used to close my eyes a lot when I had to see myself in some sort of reflection. I didn’t want to face what was in front of me. It’s time to quit that: see yourself carefully, every little part of you. Look at yourself in the eyes and get to know who you are. 
    3. Make a list of all the wonderful things you’ve done in your life and what you’re capable of doing. When I feel sad, I remember something amazing that I did a while ago: maybe that time that I did stand-up comedy on TV, or how strong I was in a sports competition. I also take time to be grateful for what’s to come, for the many things that I am capable of doing. Body confidence to me is not about how I look, but about what I am able to do. When you take some time to remember what you’re good at and the things you’re passionate about, you accept your own self more.
    4. Be careful with social media! Social media can be very toxic. When your feed is full of pictures of what beauty is supposed to feel like, or hurtful tips about “how you should achieve your summer body” (ALL bodies are summer bodies!) it’s very hard to get out of the negative spiral. We spend lots of hours surfing through social media, so my suggestion is to clean up your following list. Be careful with who you take advice from, and try to find other inspiring things rather than just pictures of other people. 
    5. Get out. Go for a walk! Work out! Play the piano! Do whatever makes you happy. Appreciate time with yourself, do things that are healthy for you, follow your passions. I find that when I have an amazing day just with myself, I am the happiest when I go to sleep.

    Learning to love yourself can be a long journey, here are some tips on self-care that can help you along the way!

  • Articles, Depression, Lifestyle

    How to Free Yourself When Feeling Down in the Dumps

    Down in the Dumps Girl

    We all have those days when we’re feeling less than stellar. Whether it’s about ourselves, our job or just a current life predicament;it’s completely normal to have moments or days where you’re just not feeling as amazing as you deserve to feel. Since your wellbeing is so unbelievably important, here are some ways to get yourself out of the dumps and into a better mood ASAP! 

    Plan a Vacation 

    Everybody needs a vacation every now and then. Finding time to get away from your daily stresses is so important, especially for your mental wellbeing. Whether you want to plan a weekend getaway or an elaborate trip around Europe, take time for yourself and map out a fun vacation. If you’re not in the place where you can afford a vacation, use the time to plan a stay-cation or simply get out of the house and do something you’ve been dying to check out. No matter what it is or what you end up planning, this will give you something to look forward to along with giving you a chance to enjoy new experiences andget yourself out of the daily rise and grind.

    Embrace Color 

    Color has more of an effect on us than we’re aware of. If you’re going through a phase where you’re not feeling like yourself, color can help be a solution. There have been many studies performed showing the psychology of different colorsand how if you surround yourself with the right colors, it may just help elevate your mood. The most immediate places to add more color will be throughout your house and your office space. Doing little things like adding brighter decor to your desk or swapping your sheets for a more vibrant set can improve your wellbeing. If you’re more of a beauty guru, don’t be afraid to add more color into your beauty routine either. Spicing up your look with a turquoise eyeliner or bright pink lip can be more than enough to give you an extra spike of confidence. The same goes for your hair color. If you’re not afraid of being bold with your hair, apply a vivid new hair colorthat will leave you surrounded by color no matter where you go! 

    Give Yourself a Mental Health Day

    If the way you’re feeling is drastically affecting your day to day, don’t be afraid to take a mental health day for yourself. While trying to give your mind some cool down time with work and other things can be a wonderful distraction, some people find that they need a whole day to reset themselves so they can be the best they can possibly be. Whether you spend the entirety of your day watching reruns of your favorite show or just using the time to get some Vitamin D in with a little extra sunshine, your mental health is all about you so use your mental health day to do whatever makes you feel good. 

    Talk it Out

    One of the worst things you can do for yourself if you’re not feeling great is to keep it all to yourself. To help you feel better, talk to friends, family, your significant other, your therapist, whoever you’re close to in your life about what you’re going through. Some people don’t like to open up for fear of being vulnerable or “being a burden”, but you have to ignore those worries because in the end, that’s what they’re there for! It can be hard to be honest about what you’re going through but opening up will make you feel loads lighter in the end. 

    What are some of your recommended ways to get yourself out of the dumps? 

  • Articles, Fashion, GirlSpring.com, School

    School Dress Codes

    school dress code

    How do you dress for class when the latest fashion trends are crop tops and leggings? When sitting through eight plus hours of lessons, the last thing you want to do is worry about what you look like. Yet with strict school dress codes for young girls, the pressure is on.

    Why is it fair that your ability to learn is determined by how long your skirt is?

    I was once sent to the principle’s office because my shirt was considered inappropriate. The principle took one look at my shirt and asked what the problem was. I had to explain that the teacher didn’t agree with the words printed on it. The shirt sported lyrics from a popular song at the time and were in no way derogatory, unless you believe the words “I’m only going to break you heart” should be banned.

    It is ridiculous the obstacles that females must jump through just to stay at school all day. If the public-school systems weighed our education over our appearances, we would surely have a better chance with our studies.

    The rules for measurement are based on how long or short your appendages are. The inability to wear clothes that are more suited for warmer climates is almost a punishment. Not to mention the amount of time and money that goes into finding “school-appropriate” clothing.

    You spend the whole summer wearing the things that feel comfortable on your body and make sense for the climate. Then you start back to school with a closet full of useless clothing.

    It might be a little different if classes started later in August or even after Labor Day like some colleges, but when school starts in the middle of the Summer season, shorts are inevitable.

    Here are some tips to survive this school year’s dress code:

    • Only buy ten items. Try to make the items interchangeable outfits. Finding plain clothing and adding accessories can help.
    • Find one store that has almost everything you need. Mine is Torrid. There are always clearance items and the clothing fits my body well. Not to mention, accessories and shoes come in abundance.
    • If you buy articles of clothing that would be considered revealing, wear leggings/colored pantyhose underneath. Or you can buy a cover-over (a cardigan, sweater, jacket, etc.).
    • Keep a spare T-shirt or pair of pants in your locker or backpack in case of wardrobe violation. This helps avoid the humiliation of having to wear gym clothes/lost-in-found clothes or having to go home for the rest of the day.
    • You may not be able to wear a crop top by itself, but turtlenecks, tank tops, and t shirts can be placed underneath one to make a cute statement.
    • You probably can’t wear leggings by themselves. Sweat pants, joggers, and other not-form-fitting workout pants can be comfortable to wear. Also, jeggings are not technically leggings, but can fit and feel just the same.

    Try reading over your school’s dress code to figure out what you can and can’t get away with. Some schools differ from others, which means yours might not have as strict of rules or it might be more strict than neighboring schools.

    Part of getting back to school ready is having your closet ready to go! Get ready with this video on how to polish your wardrobe. 

  • Articles, College, GirlSpring.com, School

    Deciding What to Study in College

    what to study in college

    Throughout our childhood and into our high school and college years, many of us are asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

    In first grade, I probably answered this question with, “I want to be an artist!” because I loved spending hours after school each day creating “masterpieces” using my markers and colored pencils. However, as I started middle school, I soon realized that I was very interested in science. I loved how applicable it was to real life, and the fact that there was so much still to be discovered intrigued me. By the end of middle school, I was pretty confident that I wanted to be a doctor one day. I was fascinated with medicine and loved listening to others and offering advice.

    This didn’t change in high school, and it made choosing a major when applying to college fairly easy for me. I took several STEM courses over my high school years, and I pursued my medical interests through my extracurricular activities (in addition to exploring other areas of interest as well). Although this process was fairly straightforward for me, I can’t say it was the same for some of my peers.

    For many, high school offers a small introduction to the vast array of opportunities out there in the world.

    Most elementary and middle schools only offer the four basic subjects: math, science, social studies, and English. This is good, but very broad. In high school, students have the opportunity to take more specialized courses within each of these subject areas. There are courses like psychology, computer science, economics, and foreign languages. These can give individuals interested in pursuing a college education a better idea of what they might want to study in the future. In addition, through a multitude of clubs and extracurricular opportunities available, high school students can get involved in activities that allow them to further explore and develop their passions. Although high school gives students an opportunity to explore a variety of subject areas and experiences, I feel that it is still tough for some students to be certain of what they want to study in college since high school is mostly a time of exploration.

    Nowadays, most colleges don’t require an individual to commit to the major they list on their application (which I think is great).

    In fact, many colleges don’t require a student to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. This gives a student time during college to explore their passions and interests and decide accordingly. Some colleges might ask students to simply list broad subject areas they may be interested in studying, which lets students know that they are not committing themselves to something they are interested in at the moment for the entirety of college.

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of college students change their major at least once. With such a high statistic, it is important to realize that many students are unsure of what they would like to study or do with their lives. Most haven’t had the opportunity to truly interact with and understand everything available to them until they’re in college. Today, many people stress the importance of setting goals and developing a detailed life plan from early on. Although this methodology is useful and may be beneficial for some individuals, it is not the best for everyone. Life is about having new experiences and doing things that make one happy. If this is a process that takes time for an individual, it shouldn’t automatically be considered unproductive or bad.

    Students are encouraged to make quick decisions. For many, I feel that it would be more helpful if they slowed down and took time to truly interact with the opportunities available to them. That way, they can make a more educated decision on what they want to study.

    Ultimately, I think it is most important for students to not feel stressed out or feel “behind”

    Just because you haven’t decided what you want to do with your life doesn’t mean you aren’t where you need to be. Each individual is unique, and we all have our own pace in which we go about doing things.

    My recommendation for high school students is as follows: this the time to explore opportunities available to you and chase your passions. When applying to college, reflect on what you enjoyed learning and doing in high school. This could be an indication of what you may be interested in studying. Use your first year of college (as I will also do this upcoming school year!) to decide whether you are enjoying the program you indicated interest in or would like to study something else. Overall, make sure you are finding value and enjoyment in what you are putting your time and effort towards.

    When you’re in high school, it’s always a good idea to keep college in the back of your mind. Here is some college advice geared to upcoming high school freshmen.

  • Articles, GirlSpring.com, Lifestyle, Travel

    Volunteering this Summer Changed My Life

    volunteering

    by Zoe Zahariadis

    This summer I am volunteering in two different refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece. Kara Tepe, the first camp I volunteered at, is a camp for families only. It hosts over 1,000 people from primarily Afghanistan.

    My Experience at Kara Tepe

    Kara Tepe provides a community atmosphere for its residents, meaning that its staff and volunteers are comprised of both international volunteers, local staff and residents themselves. The homes are not described in terms such as “section” rather than “area” and the refugees are called “residents”. For the first two weeks, I volunteered with Movement on the Ground (MOTG), a nonprofit located in the camp, to put up shading between the 200 plus homes in the camp. Shading was extremely hard work because I was in the sun on the roof for hours a day, but I really learned a lot about the structure of an NGO (non-governmental organization) and the importance of working together as a community. I worked alongside residents from across the world and was able to communicate and work efficiently, through the awkward language barriers, through it all.

    After working with MOTG, I worked with SOS Villages teaching English to children ages 7-13. It was a really great experience to learn about working with children from a different culture that also speak a different language. 

    Some of the words we taught to children
    Crafts that the children made

    My Experience at the Moria Refugee Camp

    After working at Kara Tepe, I became a French translator for Kitrinos Healthcare, a medical NGO in Moria refugee camp. Moria is the most notorious camp on the island, equated to concentration camps and prison. Working in Moria is extremely heartbreaking. In the medical clinic, we see victims of war, torture, and just overall sickness. It is so hard to have to see people break down in front of you.

    Being a translator makes you a conduit for language and understanding because at times you are the only one who can listen. It’s such a difficult place to navigate as an unbiased listener. Sometimes you just want to buy their medicine yourself or take them back to a doctor back home, but you can’t. And with very limited options at the camp, the doctors do their best. There just comes a point when you can’t do much with the small supplies we have and it is really heartbreaking.

    This work has made me grow as a person to understand more complex issues on a deep, personal level. I am so beyond thankful to have had this opportunity to learn from the community in Moria and Kara Tepe. 

    You can change the world with as little time as a summer or with more time like a gap year. Check out how Alexandra took a year off and became an activist!