Educating Underserved Girls with Girl Up’s Rachel Wisthuff & Rebecca Ruvalcaba

January 31, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today the future leaders of the United States of America from the Girl Up organization, Rachel Wisthuff and Rebecca Ruvalcaba. Welcome to Green is Good. RACHEL WISTHUFF: Hi, John, Thanks for having us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank for coming on today. Rachel, you’re the Girl Up grassroots associate in Washington DC for this amazing organization called Girl Up and Rebecca, you’re the southern California Girl Up Club President and for our listeners out there who want to follow along with what we’re talking about as we share the story of Girl Up, you can go to www.girlup.org. Rachel and Rebecca, before we get into talking about this truly amazing organization, Girl Up, can you please share your journeys first, what you were doing before you got involved and why you got involved with this great UN organization. Rachel, ,why don’t you go first? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Certainly, John. I discovered Girl Up actually when I was volunteering abroad. I was both teaching at a university and working with a local NGO on women’s and girl’s health issues and so I stumbled upon Girl Up and applied for an internship, really believing in the power of youth and their ability to make change and I stepped right into the role and started working with all of our amazing Girl Up youth supporter, including clubs, and then in June, I got hired on full time so I’ve been able to continue with this experience. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Rebecca, how about you? How did you become the Southern California Girl Up Club President? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Well, actually, I got involved my freshman year of high school and my friend started the Girl Up Club at my local high school. I really wanted to get involved. I thought it was a great organization so I became a club member. I applied to be a VP last year, a Vice President, and this year, they decided to have me be a Co-President with my friend so now we’re the two Presidents of the club at my local high school. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and so why don’t we start with what’s going on and what is really Girl Up? So our listeners really get a great understanding and for our listeners out there again, it’s just a gorgeous and a really well done website. It’s www.girlup.org. Rachel, why don’t you start with what Girl Up is and what your mission is? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Girl Up is a innovative campaign and we were created by the United Nations Foundation about three years ago and our real mission is to address the needs of adolescent girls in developing countries, those hardest to reach girls, and to do this where we empower youth in the United States to raise awareness and raise funds for programs of the United Nations so that through their support, we are able to positively empower and impact the girls in the Global South. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Okay, and so when you say positively impact, there’s other young women like you and Rebecca that raise money here in the United States and then you give money or donate money to adolescents in need around the world? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Yes, yes, so all of the donations that we collect are actually funneled through UN agencies and programs that have tremendous expertise and cultural awareness within the four countries we operate in. Currently, Girl Up supports programs in Liberia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Malawi, with hopefully more to come so that you know that all of your donations and support are going to the best possible programs. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and Rebecca, why don’t you share with our listeners how does this work? You raise money here in the United States and then you help these young ladies in these countries that Rachel just said. What does it mean, helping them, and what does that help look like and how far does the dollar go? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Well, Girl Up helps girls by girls here in the U.S. raising awareness and funds for United Nations programs that goes back and gives these girls the opportunities that they need to reach their full potential so you know, programs, they can go to help girls become educated, help them to be in a position to be a leader in their communities so the funds raised really go a long way for these girls. They change their life. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, let’s talk a little bit about most of the young women that you’re helping are young ladies that are not having opportunities that we’re so used to and somewhat take for granted here in America. Is that not correct? Such that some of them have been made child brides at very young ages or some of them aren’t given equal education opportunities like boys are given or like you’re given here in the United States and they’ve been typically marginalized in the countries that we’re talking about. Is that not correct? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Yes, that is correct. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, so the money that you’re getting to them through Girl Up is helping them get educated and break the shackles that they’ve been held back with historically? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Yeah, the funds, they go to help girls become educated, helps put them in positions to be leaders. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Rachel, what are these issues? Speak more specifically, better than I’m doing, actually. What are the issues that these young women are facing around the world that we don’t get to see via the media every day in America but they’re real problems, it’s really not right, and Girl Up is trying to remedy these problems with the great mission that you have right now? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Yeah, certainly I can speak to that. Often times, there are social and cultural norms within these communities that limit girls’ chances to be able to access education opportunities or to be able to speak freely about their health. Often times, girls don’t have safe spaces in which they can go and access a female mentor or leader in their community to really talk about the discrimination and the gender inequality they face. Girls are less likely to make the jump from primary to secondary school. The number one leading cause of death for girls in the developing world between the ages of 15 and 19 are complications due to pregnancy so statistics are out there that prove that girls face enormous challenges but that they’re not always heard in the media. You don’t often hear that a girl in some of these countries is forced to spend four to six hours a day just going to get water for their families and are often expected to help with household chores and take care of younger siblings, which prevents them from going to school and really advancing their career and advancing their education. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Rebecca, last year, Girl Up was involved with a movie that came out that really told the story that Rachel was just sharing with us about the young ladies across the world. Can you share a little bit about what that movie was and what it meant to you and the other young ladies involved with Girl Up? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Yes, of course. The movie that Girl Up was involved with last year was called Girls Like Me and it is a global movement for girls’ education. It features girls from developing countries that went through cultural problems and problems with their families but they got through all of that. They rose to the top and it really impacted my club after seeing the movie because it really opened our eyes to what girls face in developing countries and seeing it like first hand on the movie screen so it is a really amazing movie. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just so great. I know that Girl Up is part of the UN Foundation and there’s numerous organizations but one of the funding agents of the UN Foundation was Ted Turner and he has also taken on huge environmental issues and he’s made so many great and inspired so many people to make so many great changes here in the United States and around the world. Can you talk a little bit, Rachel, about how Girl Up is actually not only doing the great mission that you’re doing but also getting green along the way and inspiring your young women leaders to be green and to act environmentally? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Yes, yes. We’re very excited about this partnership so we decided girls have a tremendous potential to fundraise, to create donation drives, and what better way to raise money than to donate gently used electronics, everything from cell phones to tablets, to really bring money back to girls in the developing world? So, Girl Up was fortunate enough to partner with Electronic Recyclers International, or ERI, to create this system by which Girl Up clubs, which are girl supporters scattered throughout the U.S. and overseas, collect these cell phones, these tablets, to then turn in and then these electronic devices are cleaned. The data is wiped and they’re recycled and the money and proceeds come back to Girl Up so it’s a tremendous partnership. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, instead of Girl Up representatives doing bake sales or traditional fundraising methodologies, you’re saying give us your old cell phone or tablet. We’ll take care of a problem that you have anyway, where to get rid of that stuff responsibly, and we’ll turn it into a donation for Girl Up, which will then have a domino effect of helping young girls around the world become empowered? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Exactly. It’s a win-win. You’re saving the earth and you’re helping to support these girls so there really is no downside to this. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and how can our listeners find this program if they want to be involved or donate their old devices to help Girl Up’s mission? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Currently on our website, we have a link to the BuyBackTech website, which is GirlUp.BuyBackTech.com, and that website is extremely easy to use, All you do is you go on, you select what device you’d like to donate and from there, they’ll give you steps on how to mail it in and also we have a blog post up on our website that details the whole process so that you have a clear sense of what you’re doing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is great. We’ve talked at the top of the show, Rebecca, that you are the President of the Southern California Girl Up Club. Can you explain to our listeners a little bit more what do Girl Up Clubs mean and how many clubs are there in the United States? REBECCA RUVALCABA. Well, Girl Up Clubs are clubs that extend the mission of Girl Up within their local communities so the main goal for Girl Up Clubs are to just spread the word, fundraise for the UN programs, and advocate for change. There are Girl Up Clubs around the country and now there are even some internationally, around the world and I know in Southern California, we have around 40 clubs running and I’m not sure how much are in the United States. Rachel? RACHEL WISTHUFF: We have nearly 450 worldwide, and it’s incredible to see the way they’ve taken off and they really support one another through regional coalitions so clubs in New York will get together, exchange ideas, and really build each other up so that you can do joint fundraisers, like the ERI recycling drive or bake sales, that sort of thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What other fundraising methodologies does Girl Up use to do your great mission and your great work? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Girl Up actually has a lot of different fundraising mechanisms. One of the things that we like to take advantage of is that our youth supporters are constantly on their phones so we have partnered with a couple of apps to help raise funds for Girl Up, including Charity Miles, where you select Girl Up as your charity and then every time you run or walk, you’re donating through your miles, and then also, Donate a Photo, which every day you’ll upload a photo and one photo equals $1 and that dollar will go towards a girl’s education in Liberia and Rebecca, you have a lot more ideas to share. REBECCA RUVALCABA: Yeah, so fundraisers that my club has done are we’ve done something with people at a bake sale at our school. We’ve partners with Threads of Hope online and we’ve sold bracelets handmade by girls in The Philippines and half of the profits made went back to Girl Up and half of it went towards helping families in The Philippines so that was a really great fundraiser. We’ve also done some restaurant fundraisers where 75% of the profit in the restaurant went toward Girl Up so those have been some of the fundraisers we’ve done. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Rachel and Rebecca, we’re going back to your going green campaign with ERI and BuyBackTech. What kind of electronics does Girl Up accept so that way they can get good donations that you can use to further your mission? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Some electronics that the BuyBackTech website does accept are iPods, smart phones, and tablets so the smart phones can be like a Samsung, iPhone, Blackberry and then the tablets are like the Amazon tablets, the iPads so it’s like if you want to upgrade to the new iPhone 5, then you could give us your old iPhone 4 and donate it and help a girl in need. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. And what’s the future look like? Rachel, you got involved recently with Girl Up in terms of the home office back in DC. What is the pipeline look like for Girl Up and what are some new initiatives that you’re working on with all the young leaders around the nation like Rebecca? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Yeah, I’m happy you asked, John. We are actually thrilled to be supporting a new piece of legislation that was introduced in the House of Representatives. It’s called the Girls Count Act of 2013 and it’s a bipartisan bill and what it really seeks to do is make sure that the State Department and the U.S. Aid Agency prioritize a registry system for girls in developing countries so often times, girls will not have birth certificates or records, which prevents them from being able to register for school, from getting a loan at a bank, from owning property or being able to vote, all of these fundamental parts of their lives are denied simply because there’s no piece of paper recording their birth so we are asking all of our Girl Up Clubs and supporters to contact their member of Congress to support this bill and we’re hoping it will be introduced in the Senate sometime next year. It’s really an exciting time in Girl Up’s history and we’re also just looking to expand globally. Each year, we’ll get increasingly more clubs in different countries around the world and being able to connect those clubs to each other so that Rebecca’s club in Southern California can talk with a Girl Up club in South Africa. That’s what we’re really looking to do because we want to make sure that that pathway of communication in supporting girls is really clear and ever present. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so great. Rebecca, how has this leadership role that you’ve taken with Girl Up and your involvement with Girl Up changed your life for the better? How has it made you more aware? REBECCA RUVALCABA: It has really just made me more aware by opening my eyes and just showing me what girls face in developing countries. It made me feel like oh my goodness, girls are not going to school like here in the U.S. We have to go to school. It is like a priority so it makes me feel so great to know that I’m involved with Girl Up helping girls in need. It was really awesome when I first got involved. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and how long is this electronic takeback opportunity going to be out there? Is that an ongoing campaign for Girl Up, for our listeners out there to get online and get these electronics back to Girl Up? RACHEL WISTHUFF: Yes, yes, we kind of rolled it out in November thinking in terms of Black Friday and Cyber Monday but that being said, we know that after the holidays, people will probably have new electronics and want to recycle their old ones so this campaign is going on for the foreseeable future so definitely feel free to donate. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great and we’re down to the last minute and a half. I’m going to ask for both of you to share this question. For other young ladies that want to get involved, give some advice. Why don’t you go first, Rebecca? REBECCA RUVALCABA: Well, to get involved with Girl Up, you can just log on to GirlUp.org. Check out the website. It’s pretty awesome. You can contact Rachel or Julie up in DC. You can ask them if you want to make a Girl Up Club or your community. You can sign up and they’ll send you a starting up packet and it’ll be awesome. You’ll be like right on there. You’ll have a wonderful leadership opportunity to take hold of your club, collect members, collect funds so it’s great and participate every week in the club website and you’ll be on track. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. For our listeners out there, please go to www.girlup.org. Donate your electronics. Get money back to Girl Up and let them continue their amazing mission. Rachel Wisthuff and Rebecca Ruvalcaba, you are both amazing ambassadors for all the girls in the world and truly living proof that green is good.