It’s been a weird couple of weeks for humans around the globe, and I think (or I hope) recent events have gotten most of us thinking about what we’re doing as individuals to combat sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia and a whole bunch more ‘isms and ‘phobias that are unfortunately becoming a thing. I have everything crossed that the silver lining to 2016 is that we as a species look to our own communities and challenge ourselves to do what we can do be moral people, decent citizens and supporters of those who otherwise only have dangerous people to turn to.
I work with the not-for-profit sector by day, so it won’t surprise you that I’m passionate about the impact of individuals donating time, skills and knowledge to causes they care about. Aside from the the whole changing the world thing, volunteering is a great way of meeting new people, an awesome resume booster and a way to find that sense of purpose if you’re not lucky enough to have that in your day job. Plus, studies have shown that people who volunteer live longer, healthier lives (really).
Something that was always at the back of my mind when I moved to Canada was how and where I would volunteer. We all have causes we care about, and mine are homelessness, refugees, education and empowering women. Some of these causes I choose to donate money to and some I donate time. Sometime in early 2012 I went to trusty GoVolunteer.ca and saw an advert for the Big Sisters Study Buddy mentoring program. Education AND empowering a young girl? Sold.
When I was first matched with Angela in the fall of 2012, I was excited and nervous about to getting to know the slightly shy 12-year-old who had just started her final year of elementary school. Four years later, she’s an accomplished 16-year-old in her penultimate year of high school, and there are not enough words in the dictionary to describe how awesome she is. She’s strong, confident, generous, adventurous, independent, ambitious, curious, compassionate, brave and unapologetic. She loves animals more than you, she’s read just about every book at Oakridge library and she’s a crazy skateboarder who never wears a helmet but would do anything for the people she cares about (except wear a helmet). When she decides to do something, it happens.
Our relationship is defined in many ways by learning. The purpose of my role as a Study Buddy is that I spend one hour a week helping Angela with her homework, which is only getting harder for both of us as time goes on (grade 12 math is going to hurt). My time at school was a little too long ago for my liking, and I can categorically confirm that I’m learning along with her. The learning continues outside of the library. I took Angela hiking and she took me horseback riding. I taught her how to write up her resume and she taught me to use Snapchat. One day she’ll show me to do the dutch braid she wears so well and my life will be complete.
Angela’s also taught me the real, true, no-holds-barred reason why sexism is not OK. She’s going to graduate high school in summer 2018 and it’s so important to me that when she does, she knows that what she does for the rest of her life is solely up to her and nothing to do with her gender. She can do or be anything that the boys in her class can dream of. She’s not an object, an animal or a second class citizen and she’s more than the sum of her looks (though she is beautiful). She’s a damn force who made me cry writing this article and the world better watch out.
In this time of
crazy mad f**king turmoil uncertainty, Angela has reminded me that there is a very real reason to get out of bed in the morning and make change happen. If I can play a tiny part in helping just one deserving girl achieve her dreams, that’s a steady but sure victory over sexism. She doesn’t even need to achieve her dreams if she doesn’t want to, she just needs to know in her heart and in her mind that she can.
If you identify as female and agree that sexism sucks, please consider joining one of the many Big Sister mentoring programs around the world and change a young girl’s life.
If you identify as male and agree that sexism sucks, please consider joining one of the many Big Brother mentoring programs around the world and help raise a generation of men who will fight for equality and will in turn change a young girl’s life.
P.S. Wherever you are in the world, there is no escape. Try Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland, Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada, Big Brothers Big Sisters of London area, Big Brothers Big Sisters International or type ‘Big Sisters’ and the place you live into Google.