What does it mean to be a hero? I think most of us have an inflated idea of what it actually takes to be a real-life super hero. I’ve personally seen a lot of heroism lately from people who would not consider their own actions worthy of a cape, but whose everyday contributions make the world a safer, kinder and more awesome place!
These caped crusaders are people who contribute their time, resources and heart, to support the things that are important to them. They don’t get discouraged when they hear a story of need. They don’t allow what they can’t do to get in the way of what they can do! They take action! You action takers really are the ones who make the biggest difference in the lives of people, animals, and planet. Someone who cares about an issue and contributes in any small way that they can, is a community HERO! And in my eyes you deserve a cape!
Our Global Sorority team has just returned from Lebanon where we delivered our elements of SUCCESS™ Leadership education program. Girls from two separate schools and the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee settlement received training and resources to help them live to their full potential and gained the tools and confidence to contribute back to their own communities. It was a beautiful and eye opening experience and our first mission to work with girls in the Middle East.
Lebanon is on pins and needles at the best of times, but given their relationship and close proximity to Syria and Israel, things are particularly tense at the moment, and they are now dealing with ISIS encroaching on their northern border. So going there at this time was a risk we had to strongly consider. We collectively decided that all the hard work, volunteerism and funds raised to make this outreach a reality was worth any possible personal risk. So we boarded our flights with an In Sha' Allah .
Lebanon is considered advanced in many ways compared to other countries in the region, but when talking to young women about what it’s actually like to live there, we learned a few things we didn’t know.
Some facts that came up in conversation that seemed to be an issue for most women were as follows.
It takes two women's testimonies as eye witnesses in place of one man; marital rape is still legal and their domestic violence laws aren't very strong; girls are mostly expected to be home-makers, regardless of education or personal desires; a Lebanese woman can't pass on her nationality to her children if she marries a foreign national, and sexual/verbal harassment when out in public is an unwanted but expected occurrence.
We interviewed Lydia Canaan, a Lebanese musician, artist and UN Delegate. She told us that when she was a girl they looked forward with excitement for her brother's birthday, because this was a day of great celebration in her house. However, her own birthday, and that of 5 sisters, went by completely unnoticed and no one questioned it; it was just the way things were.
Girls are also prevented or discouraged from leaving Lebanon to go to university. One incredibly bright and gifted student told me that her parents didn’t want her to go to college in the US, despite the fact that she was being educated in an American school in Beirut. As she stated matter-of-factly: “It’s because it’s not safe for girls there.” I found this statement fascinating, because we were trepidatious about coming to her country for fear of war and violence, and they are afraid to send their daughters to us because it’s not safe for girls!… My first internal thought was “really?”
But when I step back and think critically about this, I don’t blame them! The things that go unnoticed and unspoken about, things that seem normal to us, can actually be quite disturbing if we step outside the box. Take the rate of sexual assault amongst college age girls in the US. According to the website of The American Association of University Women (AAUW) “the chance of a woman being sexually assaulted during college is about the same as her chance of catching the flu during an average year”. Not to mention the CDC study that claims 1 in 4 teen girls in the US has a sexually transmitted disease. The rate of self harm is alarmingly high. 1 in 5 girls will engage in self harm and eating disorders are rampant with 25% of college-aged women engaged in bingeing and purging.
The list goes on to include teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and other statistics that make clear we have a whole set of issues and problems that, from the outside, seem much scarier to Lebanese parents than their own traditional paternalistic inequalities and a state of war/security that has become normalized. It’s easy to look at the unfamiliar with fear and criticizism, whilst turning a blind eye to what seems normal in our own cultures.
This means we have to take a long hard look in our own back yard, instead of looking as far away as the Middle East and shaking our heads about the state of affairs for girls and women. Right here in North America, girls are in need of support. It’s our priority moving forward to offer more local GS programs for girls and young women in the US and Canada, connecting women from around the world so we can better support, learn and redefine what equality, leadership and positive co-creation looks like for our future. Girls can become action-taking heroes for themselves, each other, and the planet!
And speaking of action taking Sheroes, to top it all off, our co-founder Loretta Cella and our community partner Sarah Jamison, founder of RUN4ACAUSE, actually ran in the Beirut Marathon whilst we were there! They both completed the 42k on that hot day and did extensive fundraising beforehand, through the Raise a Runner campaign, to bring Global Sorority programs to the girls in Beirut and a school in Surrey BC. =HEROES!
The teachers from the Heritage School spent an extra 3+ hours each night after school to transport the girls to our program, and contributed to our class for two weeks! =HEROES!
The teachers and staff at the American Community School at Beirut organized and donated their classroom space and will be helping the girls moving forward with their Passion projects. They also brought and introduced us to the refugee community of girls that they volunteer with regularly. =HEROES!
And to all of you who make this work possible, to you everyday community action heroes who definitely deserve a cape, Thank YOU!