Young human rights activist Alaina Podmorrow speaks about her experience as the founder of Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan at the public meeting of the University Women’s Club.
Podmorrow, who started LW4LW, as the education project is known, when she was nine, is passionate about the rights of all children to have an education. She had attended a speech by journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong on the violations of human rights against girls and women in Afghanistan.
“She told a story about a girl in Afghanistan whose parents had been killed and had to take care of her younger brothers and sisters and could not go to school,” said Podmorrow, who has just turned 14. “If the girl had a few spare minutes, she would go to her parents’ graves and talk to them. It was so sad. And many girls are just not allowed to go to school. I thought about how these were girls like my friends and me but they are not given the same chances we are.”
Podmorrow remembers sitting on the foot of her parents’ bed that night and telling them how she wanted to do something to help the girls in Afghanistan. She decided to have a silent auction with the goal of raising $775, enough to pay one teacher for one year in Afghanistan. With the help of the Rotary Club in Lake Country and her friends, Mary and Cassandra, she raised enough to pay for four teachers for a year.
Little Women for Little Women sends funds to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, an organization which keeps the funds safe and sees that they are properly distributed for school supplies and teachers’ salaries. Last year saw the first graduating class of girls in LW4LW supported schools.
“Many of the girls want to go on to our teacher training program. That is so powerful and uplifting,” said Podmorrow, a Grade 8 student at Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School in Lake Country. By the spring of 2007, she had started the first LW4LW group with girls in her Grade 4 class at Davidson Road elementary school. There are now 15 groups in schools around the area and the idea is spreading. The groups hold fundraisers and have been featured on CBC and in Maclean’s magazine. Podmorrow has won many awards and went to Ottawa to meet the prime minister last year.
“We thought that these are little girls in Afghanistan and we’re little girls here and we are fighting for the rights of girls just like us,” she said. “We are pen pals with girls in Afghanistan, who learn English as a second language, we know they work hard on their letters and we like to get them.
“It’s an incredible feeling for me knowing that I’m able to spread the word about these girls. It was difficult in the beginning because I was very shy but I want to educate people about the dire need for education in our world. Education equals peace.”
She keeps in touch with what is going on in Afghanistan through contact with a mentor working there.
“What is really going on is people are being stoned. There are horrible, barbaric human rights violations. The more I hear, the more infuriated I become. But we can do something. I started very small and it turned into a huge organization.”
Podmorrow trains LW4LW members to participate in outreach, workshops and as speakers. She is planning a workshop for Grade 6 students on what it would be like to go to school in Afghanistan, with few supplies, sitting on mats in a hot room with no access to water. There will be an emphasis on the fact that only 10 per cent of girls in Afghanistan attend school.
Her parents, Jamie and Dan Podmorrow, think she is a naturally compassionate person.
“When she was little, her brother was very ill, and she learned to share and be empathetic to others. She has always been very kind and caring,” said her mother.
Podmorrow has been selected as a global teen leader for the We Are Family Foundation’s ThreeDotDash Initiative to attend the Just Peace Summit in New York in March.
“It will be an education week. I’ll meet 34 teens from around the world and find out how organizations work in different countries and listen to youth speakers and bring back ideas. We also get a mentor for a year to give us guidance with our organizations. It’s going to be an awesome experience,” she said.
Podmorrow keeps her busy life in balance by concentrating on school and her volunteer work during the week and leaving the weekends free for friends, family and sports. She plans to study international human rights law at Queen’s University. She will always be involved in Little Women for Little Women in some way.
“I hope I will continue to contribute. The passion has really stayed with me over the past few years. I have learned so much, that one thing — even a small thing — can affect other people in the world.”
Podmorrow speaks at the Canadian Federation of University Women (Vernon Branch) public meeting Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre. Admission is by donation ($10 suggested) with net proceeds going to the Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan Foundation.