Culture 19 May 2018
33 million girls around the globe are out of school.
Let that sink in for a minute, that's three times the population of the island of Manhattan, six times the population of Ireland, and twice as many people as in The Netherlands.
That means that 33 million girls, instead of expanding their horizons, enjoying their youth, and becoming the next generation of leaders, are being sold off as sex slaves, being confined to domesticity at home, or married off to men four times their age.
John Wood, Founder of Room to Read, and the organization's CEO Dr. Geetha Murali think we can do better to address the oft overlooked ramifications the literacy of children and lack of education. "We're here today celebrating the importance of challenging illiteracy and gender inequality in education," said the CEO. "We know that together we can make sure the game is changed for millions of children all around the world."
Murali and Wood joined a group of 230 enthused philanthropists, mediaites, and business professionals for an evening of cocktails, conversation and fund-raising in New York, as well as a nostalgic performance from early oughts superstar, Ashanti.
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Ashanti performs onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at SECOND in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
"Education is the foundation for all future learning, and if we don't ensure that children are educated young, their futures are at risk."
-Dr. Geetha Murali, CEO, Room to Read
Room to Read, a non-profit Wood founded in 2000, has, since conception reached over 12M children throughout the globe in its drive to end childhood illiteracy. Their agenda for the evening was to both honor some of their most emphatic supporters, and raise much needed money, as they aim to reach 15M children by 2020. On offer at the auction, everything from a swim with Olympic medalist Kim Vandenberg, to a trip to Cambodia, and a year-long WeWork membership, the grand sum of which raised a whopping $3M in a mere matter of hours.
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 17: Honoree Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Samantha Barry speaks onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at SECOND in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
"One of the things Glamour is really, really, passionate about is empowering women and girls, and the best way to do that is through education,"
-Samantha Barry, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour
Being honored were Glamour's newly-appointed Editor-in-Chief Samantha Barry, and Citigroup's President, Jamie Forese. The significance of the award was not lost on Barry, who spoke with SWAAY about the importance of initiatives focused on educating girls, for the future of the global economy. "One of the things Glamour is really, really, passionate about is empowering women and girls, and the best way to do that is through education," she noted. "In some countries they see it as economical to have the girls at home or cooking or working , but the reality is if you put a girl into secondary [high] school and if you put her into further education, not only does it benefit her, but it benefits her family, [and] her community."
Echoing Barry's sentiments was Revenge and Greek star Dilshad Vadsaria, who was recently appointed an ambassador for the non-profit. Speaking with SWAAY, she told us how she came to know of their work and why she wanted to get involved. “I was talking to someone and they were telling me, 'Oh, I know room to read, they put books on top of mules and they carry them to these villages where children don’t have access to these books,'" she said with a smile. "The commitment it takes and the passion it takes to actually do that, where most people would go, 'well, that’s an area we can’t get to so we’ll have to concentrate on this area.' There’s no stopping them, they go above and beyond."
"These children are not going to stop needing an education, they’re not going to stop needing a place to escape too, so they can dream and hope and in turn have their dreams come true,"
-Dilshad Vadsaria, Room to Read ambassador
Olympian Kim Vandenberg also chimed in on the praise for the work Wood's organization has done over the last eighteen years. The swimmer, who is now working with young athletes to hone their skills and encourage ambition, was a natural fit for ambassador. “I work with a lot of younger swimmers and I help empower them and build their confidence so that they can achieve whatever goals they have, in and out of the pool," she commented. "So, I feel like that lines up really well with Room to Read and I’m really excited to help promote the brand to go international.”
Neema Mwita, of Tanzania took to the stage to talk about Room to Read's impact on her life. Her emotional speech ended with a raucous applause. Neema Mwita speaks onstage during the 2018 Room to Read New York Gala on May 17, 2018 at Kimpton Hotel Eventi in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Room to Read)
Barry also spoke about doing her part in going beyond the pages of to enact change and impart the importance of advocacy to Glamour's 2.3M subscribers. In her first print issue of Glamour released this month, chose to focus solely on money, and a new attitude for the magazine going forward. in her new position spends her days championing female empowerment through one of Condé Nast's oldest running publications,
"I'm only the seventh editor that Glamour has had since 1939 so it's a responsibility I take very, very seriously," says Barry, an Irish native, who worked at CNN and BBC before stepping into her new post. "Glamour's a place that not only can do light and more serious topics around women, but really speaks to a lot of women in the middle of the country in America. I think there's a lot of media brands that don't engage with those communities in a way that they should do. I have very lofty ambitions for the type of journalism we'll be telling in the coming months."
5 Min Read
Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da
If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.
In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.
These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.
After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.
About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.
When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.
Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.
Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.
Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.
This article was originally published September 12, 2019.