Campus & Community

Global Girls Day sparks enthusiasm

5 min read

Harvard’s Strong Women, Strong Girls hosts event

The president of the international assembly turns to the delegates gathered before her and appeals for calm. Word has just come in of a tsunami that has struck India. Global support for reconstruction must be mobilized at once.

But not before some new vocabulary is introduced. “Does anyone know what ‘cooperation’ means?” assembly president Lena Tetelbaum asks.

Bursting with eagerness to be called on, the delegates wave their name placards like pennants. From a number of people at once comes an explanation of cooperation as being about “working together.”

Efforts to solve international problems are nothing new to Harvard.

Gonzales, Hernandex,
In the ‘break room,’ Arihana Gonzales, 10 (from left), Yohalis Hernandez, 9, and Yaritza Trinidad, 11, take out some extra energy with chalk and high-fives.

What is a little unusual about this one is how many of the participants are in pigtails.

Welcome to Global Girls Day on the Harvard campus. Sponsored by the Harvard chapter of Strong Women, Strong Girls, the event brought in 82 third- through fifth-graders from local schools on Saturday (Nov. 11) to introduce them to the world outside U.S. borders, and to the University’s own international resources.

Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) is a mentoring program that connects college students with young girls deemed “at risk” in schools and community centers around Boston and Cambridge. In addition to regular weekly meetings on their girls’ own turf, the Harvard mentors bring the girls to the campus once a semester for a special event.

Given Harvard’s recent emphasis on international studies and study abroad, the idea of a “Global Girls Day” seemed a natural for this fall’s campus event, explained Caitlin Campbell, events coordinator for SWSG at Harvard. The SWSG enlisted the support of, among others, the Model U.N. Club for the tsunami relief exercise that Tetelbaum conducted, and of folk dance clubs: Harvard Ballet Folklorico, which does Mexican dance, and the Harvard Gumboots, which performs the dances of black South African miners.

Mathis, Condi,
Asjah Mathis, 8 (right), looks at a book about Italy at the ‘Europe table,’ while Chiara Condi ’08 (left) and Alexander Bevilacqua ’07 lead the discussion.

The girls followed a program of 45-minute workshops combining both sit-still and get-up-and-burn-off-energy activities. At the end of the day was a “World Fair,” for which the girls moved from one booth to another, hearing something about a different country at each and collecting flag stickers for the paper “passports” they had made earlier in the day.

International students were also on hand to provide introductions to their home countries to the girls, some of whom seemed a bit geography-challenged at times. “Italy – it’s at the bottom of France,” Alexander Bevilacqua ‘07 explained over a recording of “Rigoletto,” which was serving to establish a European cultural space in one of the classrooms of Sever Hall, where Global Girls Day was held.

Still, Campbell, a sophomore from Knoxville, Tenn., is impressed at how internationally minded the girls are. They’re “thinking globally at a younger age,” she observes. “And many of them are the daughters of immigrants from the same countries as our international students come from.”

Campbell estimated that 25 to 30 undergraduate men and women were involved in the event. “We’ve had lots of outside support.”

Kathleen Pond – a sophomore from North Carolina who spent her senior year of high school in Beijing – responded to a notice from SWSG recruiting volunteers to share something Chinese. She introduced her charges to the concepts of writing with characters rather than letters and of tones in language, and explained how to ask “How are you?” and say “My name is …” in Mandarin.

“I’m thinking I’ll even join,” she observed as the girls focused on copying the Mandarin characters for the numbers from 1 to 10 off a whiteboard. “It’s been a great day.”

Founded at Harvard by Lindsay Hyde (’04) when she was a freshman six years ago, Strong Women, Strong Girls has taken root and spread to other campuses – Northeastern University and Simmons College. A chapter is being organized at Boston College, and a beachhead has even been established in Pittsburgh, at Carnegie-Mellon University. Hyde is now executive director of the umbrella organization, with offices in downtown Boston.

From October to May, the Harvard student “mentors,” as they are known, make weekly visits in teams of two or three to their “sites,” each of which typically has eight to 10 girls involved in the program. The Harvard chapter involves about 35 mentors and 120 girls. The program focuses on acquainting the girls with the biographies of various notable “strong women,” and the steps they took to overcome obstacles in their path. Another feature of the program is the 10 “Countdown to Success” skills it teaches, including critical thinking, public speaking, and cultural sensitivity.

“I was looking for a mentoring program, where I could work with younger kids,” says Campbell of her own involvement with SWSG. “It’s been eye-opening. It’s good to get out of the Harvard community, and it’s been really enriching. I learn so much from the girls.” She’s also found she’s benefiting from mentoring herself from the upperclasswomen in the group.

“Lots of Harvard students want to keep giving back.”