You(th) Can Change the World
Maame Yankah, a Ghanaian youth and Plan International Youth Representative was recently interviewed by Plan.
Here, she discusses her involvement with Plan's Because I am a Girl campaign and why she is passionate about raising awareness of girls' issues.
What made you interested in Because I am a Girl?
Last summer I joined Plan International USA staff as a junior counselor at their annual YUGA Leadership Summit. It was at this camp that I was introduced to the Because I am a Girl campaign.
When I moved to the United States from Ghana for college, I still wanted to be involved with gender equality issues – so it was no surprise when I began using the Because I am a Girl campaign as one of my tools to advocate for girls’ rights all over the world.
How have you been involved in raising awareness of girls’ issues in your community?
I host events on my school’s campus and use the Because I am a Girl Toolkit to educate my campus community. When we play the card games and other games in the toolkit, people are surprised at what they learn from the activity. It is such a simple way of educating people yet it has such a profound impact.
I wear my Because I am a Girl shirt and wrist bands to events, decorate my laptop with YUGA stickers, use my Plan BIAAG badge on my book bag and rock other apparel by organizations I support. I am always surprised by the number of conversations started because of these items and the number of questions that come up as a result of doing this. It’s a great way to raise awareness and get people asking questions about the cause.
I also use Girl Rising as a tool to shed light on the state of girls’ education and to put a face to the statistics. I also utilize Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to share my stories, the unique stories of girls I know, and stories of girls supported by Plan International and other organizations working with girls at the grassroots level.
What motivates you to be involved in girls’ rights?
I come from the country Ghana where there are vibrant youth bursting with ideas for change, but there are very few opportunities to hone these skills and use them to benefit society. In the cases where we have had active youth participation, we have seen tremendous changes.
My passion for female empowerment and community service has been with me for years. At the age of 15, I volunteered with the Budumburam camp for Liberian refugees where I saw girls denied an education because of their gender and the dangers and harmful exposures in the community. I also volunteered at an all-girls school where teenage pregnancy was prevalent. By including the girls on sexual reproductive and other related health conversations, they began to learn about their value and their ability to say no to unwanted sex. It was a lesson for me on the effects of empowering a population.
What does being a Youth Ambassador for Plan mean to you?
A large percentage of youth today are not maximizing their full potential because they lack guidance and opportunities to channel their energies. Being a Youth Ambassador means bringing youth into the conversation affecting policies. Most conversations on youth in development and other contemporary problems lack a youth representation. If we are discussing issues concerning youth, why not include youth themselves?
My role as a youth ambassador is also a constant reminder to other youth about their capacity to affect change in the world. There’s a quote from a young lady in the documentary Miss Representation: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” If youth do not see other youth becoming change makers, what should motivate them to do the same?
If you could say one thing to the general public about this topic, what would it be?
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and globalized, it is important for everyone to think about their role in making the world a better place. For countries like the United States, superpowers in dominant positions who have the ability to make decisions that affect many countries in this world, it is important for global citizens to think about the messages we convey about what it means to be a girl.
One of my favorite African authors Chimamanda Adichie once said, ‘“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” I don’t know what the best way to affect change is, but we need to listen more attentively to the stories of others and give them the tools to navigate this world.