Breathing a sigh of relief is an enormous understatement of how I feel right now. We are a week into our 5-week 2018 Leadership Training and Cultural Exchange with our 8 global scholars, and it all seems surreal at times.
The lead up to this program has been something for which none of us were fully prepared, this being our first exchange in Nepal. The past three years of exchanges have taken place in Los Angeles and so we could only guess at the obstacles or challenges that may jump into our path leading up to our 2018 exchange in Kathmandu, Nepal. This is also our first year partnering with Sierra Leone Rising, the NGO located in Bumpe Sierra Leone and from where our two scholars Isata and Josephine travelled. I feel like most of us take for granted our ability to decide from where and when we travel and how we get there. I certainly did prior to this experience. We don't even know that our ability to cross most borders without harassment and fear, is actually a privilege...but it truly is. Our scholars are from the poorest of countries that all have challenging histories of colonialism, domination, and war. This history and the color of their skin immediately puts them at risk when they want to travel. When you add in the fact that they are all young women, well the only assumption that is made by government officials the world over, is that their only value is their sexuality.
From trying to find flights from Haiti and Sierra Leone to Nepal (which don't actually exist), to attempting to get accurate information on what visas they may need as they traversed the globe, we were met with obstacle, after challenge, after misinformation. Our girls from Haiti we scheduled to finally pick up their Schengen Visas (for their stopover in Amsterdam), after being denied the first time around, when violent protests erupted in Port-au-Prince and the Embassies were closed!!! Yes you can't make this stuff up!!! Our Haitian scholars finally received their visas the day before they were set to fly!!!
Once our scholars took to the sky, for their first times I may add, they then ran into barrier after barrier as each immigration officer they encountered was immediately suspicious of their plans. Each scholar had letters from Global Girl and our partner school and all of the necessary visas, but still they were only seen for the color of their skin, their gender, and their nationality. As our Sierra Leonean scholars landed in Ghana, for their first layover, they were stopped by immigration officers and almost thrown out of the airport and into the streets of Accra because they did not believe that the girls could be participating in a leadership training. We were all so scared for them, but they immediately grew strength they didn't even knew they had and about a minute before their next flight was set to leave immigration let them on the plane. Thank you to our team in LA, New York, Sierra Leone, and Nepal for calling every Emirates employee we could find, in order to get our girls on their flight!!!
So I hope you can see how, even before they landed in Kathmandu, our scholars were already changing our world, breaking societal norms and expectations. As they all landed in Kathmandu I cried, I took a deep breath, and knew that what Global Girl Project is doing is now more important than ever. I knew that this is where true societal change will take root and blossom.
Now the real work begins!!!!! Stay tuned to this space for weekly video blogs from our scholars.