Thanks to UNICEF and Rudina Vojvoda for the following blog post and podcast.
NEW YORK, United States of America, 16 August 2013 – 19 August marks World Humanitarian Day, a time to pay tribute to men and women whose actions make the world a better place. To commemorate the day and learn how each of us can promote human welfare and inject social change in our communities, UNICEF’s podcast moderator, Alex Goldmark, spoke with two women who have done just that: Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is a professor at the University of San Francisco and is the founder of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator investing in high-achieving young African women from underprivileged backgrounds; Dr. Tererai Trent is a Zimbabwean woman who, despite all odds, managed to educate herself, realize her dreams and help other girls in her community realize theirs.
Listen to the Podcast in Streaming MP3 Format As a little girl, Dr. Trent was denied her education, even though she did all of her brothers’ homework and was very good at it. Worse still, she was married off at a young age and was told to forget about school. Almost two decades ago she met the CEO of Heifer International and was given a chance to study abroad. After years of hard work, she earned her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a PhD while raising a family. Inspired by her story, Oprah Winfrey called Dr. Trent her “all-time favourite guest” and donated $1.5 million to rebuild the Matau Primary School in Dr. Trent’s home village. About four thousand children have gone through the school already, almost 60 per cent of them are girls, Dr. Trent says.
For Dr. Trent, the path to doing good was obvious from the start. “Growing up in poverty, I knew I wanted to make a difference in my own life,” says Dr. Trent. “I stand on the shoulders of many people, and I have that moral obligation to give back to my community.”
Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg’s motivation also comes out of her own experience and understanding that she herself is a product of other people’s investments into her life, people who believed and saw a potential in her. “My work with Akili Dada is very much my way of … instead of being a period at the end of the sentence of this generosity coming to my life, really being a comma – making sure that that story of generosity and impact continues, especially when we think about young women, and young African women more specifically,” says Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg.
Asked to offer some advice to young people eager to take the path of promoting social change, Dr. Trent says: “Don’t be defined by your past, neither should you be defined by the challenges in front of you. Work hard – in the long run you will enjoy, and also make sure that you align yourself with people that believe in your vision and align yourself for the greater good.”
Dr. Kamau-Rutenberg encourages young people to step up and act. “I think a lot of young people sit back and wait for some kind of external permission, and I’ll say no one is going to come around with a letter that says, I hereby certify you ready to go and impact the world. Act, act of humility, seek understanding – but act, for goodness’ sake. If something is wrong around you, if something is not working in your community, act,” she concludes.