Little woman, little womenCover April 5, 2010
What are the choices we have, when we are told about the plight of our fellow human beings – men, women and children? Three years back, a nine-year-old school girl in Canada was told about the terrible life of women and girls in Afghanistan, as she attended a talk given by journalist and humanitarian activist Sally Armstrong.
Alaina Podmorow – now thirteen – knew what her choice was. She contacted Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, and asked if she could join the organisation. She was welcomed with open arms. Thus, Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan was born – a humanitarian organisation of young girls in Canada, trying to help the girls in Afghanistan. The organisation raises funds in order to support female education in Afghanistan, with the motto: Education = Peace.
Three years on, Little Women for Little Women has raised thousands of dollars for its cause, by hosting events all across Canada. What started as a twenty-member team is now growing into a national movement. In partnership with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, the organisation supports a teacher training project and an orphanage in Kabul; a number of schools and a village library.
And, it all started the day Alaina Podmorow became a humanitarian.
In her own words, “I am the founder of Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan. I founded this organisation three years ago, when I was nine years old. In the fall of 2006, I found out that the privileges that I have, other girls in our world do not get. I learned about this when I went with my mom to listen to journalist, author and human rights activist, Sally Armstrong speak about Afghanistan. She told stories about the terrible things that happen to little girls in Afghanistan. I was so moved. It was so upsetting to me that these girls were not able to exercise their rights. They were not able to go to school and sometimes they did not go to school because they were afraid they would be hurt or even killed.”
Sharmin Afsana interviewed Alaina Podmorow.
Founder of Little Women for Little Women and a thirteen-year-old soccer player – how do you draw the balance?
People ask me that question a lot. I am really passionate about my work with Little Women, but, I know that I am just thirteen and there has to be a balance. My schedule is really well planned, so that I can do the things I love and have fun doing. I do miss a lot of school, but, I have lots of homework and I always make sure I am caught up.
I do sports all year round because I just love it, and sometimes Little Women get really busy, but, I know that as soon as I finish I can go and take time and just be a kid. My usual day is like this – I get up, have breakfast and check and answer my emails, then, I am off to school. Right now I have basketball and soccer, and I have just been invited to be on a youth editing team for an author who is writing a kid’s book about Afghanistan. We have our big gala event coming up on April 17, so I am working more than usual but soon it will slow down and it will be much more relaxed. We will probably take a family vacation in the beginning of summer.
Little Women for Little Women – how did it start?
In the fall of 2006, I attended a speech by my inspiration, journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong. She told stories about the human rights violations that were happening to women and girls in Afghanistan, especially the right to education. At the end of Sally’s speech, she said the worst thing you can do is nothing. It was right then that I realised that I had to do something and even if it was small, it would make a difference. That is when I started Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan.
I read somewhere that there is an interesting story behind your logo.
The logo is kind of a funny story. I knew I wanted to make a symbol for Little Women, and so one day I just started doodling flowers all over a page. In all different shapes and sizes. But, I kept repeating this one particular flower. My mom walked by me and looked at my paper and said, “That is so beautiful, it is a flower, but it also looks like a dove being set free.” I knew right then, that was the symbol for us. I coloured it red black and green because that is the colour of the Afghan flag. People recognise that flower now as our symbol, so that is pretty neat.
When you heard stories about the young girls in Afghanistan, what moved you so much that you decided to act?
Sally Armstrong told so many stories that night about girls in Afghanistan, who were just like me and my friends. But, instead of going to school and playing with their friends, they were forced to stay home. They had no freedom and they were so afraid of the unknown. It just felt so wrong to me. It was Sally’s words, “The worst thing you can do is nothing,” that made me realise right then, that nothing would change unless we all took action. That is why I decided to start raising money to educate girls in Afghanistan. Even though it may only make a small difference, it still would make change.
Have you ever been to Afghanistan, or any plans?
No, I have never been, but, I do want to some day. Right now it is too dangerous for me to go, and I would be risking the Afghan girl’s safety as well. I will go when it is safe to visit.
How many of your friends are involved in LW4LW?
There are about twenty girls in the first team of Little Women and they have been members for 3 1/2 years now. They are all my friends, and I have made so many new friends with the teams that have started all across Canada.
How is your family supporting your work?
My family is always supporting me. My dad and brother help as much they can and are always supporting and encouraging me. My mom is always by my side helping me out. She looks after all the grown-up things about the organisation like administration and arranging my calendar and speaking trips. She attends all my speeches and is at each event we hold. Without her amazing help, encouragement and wisdom, I would be not where I am today. My mom is truly one of my inspirations and I love her so much!
Education = Peace – so, why do you think education will change the lives of Afghan women and bring peace?
That is a simple one. I believe that once everyone is educated, peace can be achieved. When you are educated, you become a stronger person. Illiteracy leaves people afraid of the unknown because they do not understand and they can not read to find out what is going on and make their own opinions. When you are educated, you understand that people are all the same, and they deserve the same rights, and that it is possible to achieve peace.
The education projects you are raising funds for – which areas in Afghanistan they are being carried out and how?
We have a teacher training project we support in Kabul, as well as an orphanage. We support schools in Jalalabad, Kabul area and we support a village library project that actually is run by the villagers who build their own libraries. This project is a great example of how you can help someone to help themselves.
These projects are in place because of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, and we send 100% of everything we raise to them. They send 100% of all donations to the projects. I am working on a project to introduce a physical education program for girls in Afghanistan. This is important because it will improve their self esteem, cardiovascular health, and it will be fun too.
Do little women in Afghanistan know about the little women in Canada?
Absolutely yes. We have made friends, through letters, and we feel we are connected to them and they to us.
Where do you see LW4LW and yourself, five years from now?
You know, I do not really think about that. I try to just think about now and right now. I feel that I will continue until everyone has a chance for an education. I have done it for three years now, and I can not imagine not doing it, or not working to help restore human rights.
If you are given the power to change one thing in our world, what would you do?
This might make some adults mad at me. But, if I had the power to change one thing in the world it would be to change the way some of our leaders and academics think. I think some adults sometimes get caught up in thinking this side is right or that side is right and sadly when everyone is spending all their time and energy fighting about who is right, kids are dying, girls are getting raped and sold off as brides as young as eights years old and getting acid thrown on their faces just because they are walking towards the school.
I am not saying that people should not stand by what they believe in, but I think that if everybody could put all their energy that they use for fighting and put it towards raising money to build schools or train teachers or buy food for starving kids or creating awareness of the importance of education, we would change our world and create global peace.
That is what I dream of accomplishing.
Sharmin Afsana is Managing Editor, Independent World Report.
Online: More information about Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan.
In print: Independent World Report — Issue 4/April 2010.