In 2008, The Case Foundation published a release on Social Citizens and defined a “new social citizen” of the 21st century as digitally fluent, idealistic, immersed in social causes and changing the nature of social change. Who are some of these new social citizens? What are they doing to address the complex problems of the 21st century?
Mary Grace Henry is the founder of Reverse the Course, a non-profit organization that provides tuition, boarding, uniforms and textbooks for girls to attend school in Uganda, Kenya, Paraguay and Haiti. People can purchase hand-made hair products and reversible hairbands from Reverse the Course, and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to educating girls in each country. “I believe that the value of a girl going to school is so much,” she says. “So much, that it can change the entire community around it and maybe even the entire country.”
What you may not know, is that the founder of Reverse the Course, Mary Grace, founded the organization when she was 12 years old and is currently 15, juggling her non-profit management with coursework, tests, sports tournaments and a variety of high school activities.
Mary Grace’s story is rooted in her ability to see a connection – a connection between her and another girl 5,000 miles away, and a link between her actions and the eradication of a global problem.
“Out of 700 million illiterate people, 530 million are girls,” she told me, “and 97% of these women give their entire income back to their families and community, as opposed to 30-40% of men. If we are able to sponsor education for a few girls in a community, then other girls in that community will say, maybe I can have an education too.”
I am impressed by Mary Grace’s ability to look at a statistic and strive to alter it. “I want families to realize that whatever economic value of what they’re going to give will help; any little bit can help,” she says. She takes a pervasive issue and sees an opportunity to reverse the course by setting off a domino effect. To Mary Grace, the sale of a few headbands can set in motion a girls’ path to education and the success of not only her but her community.
I had the opportunity to interview Mary Grace and learn about her movement, motivations and goals. To find out more about Mary Grace and Reverse the Course, visit her website at http://www.reversethecourse.org/en/.
Anjali Daryanani: You stand as an incredible example for the rising generation of youth. What would you want to see more of among people your age, and why?
Mary Grace: Thank you. Actually, among people my age, there has been a lot of movement towards supporting a cause that we are passionate about. I find it incredible that there are as many kids that there are who are like me who have helped a cause in whatever way they could, whether it be starting a business, building houses in Haiti, rescuing dolphins, arranging a midnight run, collecting Halloween costumes for kids, collecting for a food pantry or leading a school club.
I want to make sure that people my age know is that every little action that they take to help can have an equal effect. Someone might not think that giving their old coat is enough but that would be one less person who wouldn’t have a coat. I am surprised by the large movement that my generation has started. If we want a different future and a better world we need to act on it and act sooner rather than later, which is exactly what a lot of us are doing.
Anjali Daryanani: What do you think could inspire students to want to impact other people, either in their own community or beyond?
Mary Grace: I think that global unity is one of the most important sources of inspiration that anyone could have to be motivated to do something. It gives that person a sense of responsibility, a sense of being worth something and part of a greater group than themselves. It is important to be exposed to issues as well. Hearing a personal story of hardship, seeing a documentary on any issue is a great source of inspiration as well.
Maybe another new way to inspire is a reality TV show about people of all ages who are doing social good. Has anyone developed a panel of change, a panel of youth or global exchange? People who can come to different high schools and speak about their mission.
Seeing that someone else is taking part in a cause that that youth is interested in will not make it seem as daunting because when other people are involved it can become a group and that youth does not have to do everything on their own. Seeing or hearing about personal struggles of people who they know within their own community is another great source because it gives an even deeper meaning to the cause and a deeper reason to help.
Anjali Daryanani: In your story, you mentioned a connection to two girls in Uganda. How do you feel connected to people that are geographically distant from you? How do you think your lives intersect?
Mary Grace: The distance does not matter at all. When I met those girls we had the same favorite subjects, laughed and smiled just as I would with my own friends. We just talked and connected through our similarities and became closer as we began to understand our difference. The dedication that they showed in their own schoolwork inspired me to work harder. Our lives interconnect over the simple things in daily life.
Anjali Daryanani: Do you think that youth are lacking in awareness about global issues? If so, how do you think that could change?
Mary Grace: I think that my generation can get distracted. People who are funding non-profits could be doing a better job of publicizing their good work and airing it on T.V. so that it would reach a lot of kids. Maybe they could join forces and create a program that schools could then show in an assembly. Despite all of this, I think that youth today have much more access to what’s going on internationally than they ever did before. There are many news shows occurring during all times of the day, so many websites that offer information and apps for your phone that you could check on the go. My generation is not unaware but they could be overwhelmed and confused about how to make a difference. I think the challenge is helping them hear the message more clearly.
It costs between $530 and $630 to pay for one year of tuition and boarding for a girl, and Mary Grace has sponsored education for eighteen students in Uganda, Kenya, Paraguay, and Haiti. One of Mary Grace’s goals for the year is to provide education to five more girls in the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Her ultimate goal is to put 100 girls through school.
Jill W. Iscol from The Daily Beast writes, “What are the qualities of the young leaders of this generation? They combine excellence in effort and performance with an ethic of fairness; they exemplify commitment and humility; and they are relentless in their pursuit of finding grassroots solutions to the complex problems of the 21st century.” Mary Grace Henry is an outstanding example of a new social citizen and One World Youth Project is working to build these skills of leadership and empathy among the rising generation of youth.