Zuriel Oduwole is an accomplished person. She was the youngest international media representative at the 2012 World Press Conference in Nigeria; she has directed, shot, and edited her own ten-minute documentary on the formation of the African Union (for which she personally interviewed several former and current African presidents); and in early 2013 she traveled to Nigeria to showcase her film and speak to Masters students at the Pan-African University as part of her project to inspire young women to take action for gender equality in education in Africa.
It was an early Thursday evening in June when I first heard Zuriel’s story. At work, my phone rang.
“Girl Rising, Cassia speaking.”
The man on the other end excitedly announced that he was from a non-profit in Fiji and that there was “a 10-year-old girl that was filming a documentary for girls’ education in Africa” that he wanted to put me in touch with. He’d met her through their volunteer program. I answer the main phone number for Girl Rising, so I’m used to receiving calls from unknown organizations like this. There was so much static on the line, I could barely hear him.
“Did you say 10-year-old?” I asked, thinking that it might have just been the bad connection.
“Yes! She’s 10. It’s simply magical.”
I was skeptical. I couldn’t believe someone so young could have that much drive and compassion for others. My most outspoken opinion at age 10 was that Christina Aguilera’s “Lady Marmalade” proved beyond a doubt that she was a better singer than Britney Spears. I don’t think I even fully understood the meaning of “human rights”– or good music, for that matter. It wasn’t until I received his follow-up email with more information that I even considered the story possible. Yet, as I read the articles he’d forwarded to me about the young girl’s interview with Venus and Serena Williams and heard her voice-overs on her documentary, my disbelief faded. She was the real deal.
As I prepared for my Skype interview with the girl, Zuriel, and her father, Ademola Oduwole, I imagined that she would be standing in front of a chalkboard, wearing a crisp suit like the 10-year-old YouTube sensation, Kid President, and speaking in his precocious, scripted aphorisms. She would say, “If it doesn’t make the world better, don’t do it!” and wag her finger at me.
Instead, when the video clicked on, the scene was much less staged. Zuriel and her father sat side-by-side in front of an undecorated, off-white wall. She wore a neon green t-shirt and waved at the computer camera. Her father, Ademola, nodded welcomingly and adjusted his baseball cap.
I told the smiling young girl that I had just a few questions for her and she cheerfully responded, “that’s fine!”
Zuriel was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, with the exception of a few years in her early childhood when her family moved to Paris and then Hong Kong. She and her three younger siblings are enrolled in a homeschooling program, which allows her to spend some time in a regular classroom, but also leaves room for her busy schedule. While she’s only 10 years old, she’s already advanced to 7th grade.
She said she first became invested in changing the world while watching news coverage of wars, famine, and corruption.
“There’s a lot of negative comments about Africa, and I wanted to focus on education because I believe that if you can educate the kids of today, then the future of Africa will be much greater.”
These wise words soon became the mantra of her work.
It was in 6th grade that Zuriel began exploring documentary filmmaking. During her search for extracurricular activities, she found and applied for a contest whose guidelines involved producing a 10-minute documentary about “revolutionary reaction and reform in history.” Zuriel chose to focus her project on the history of the African Union and its impact on the continent.
The contest rules included that the documentary needed primary sources, so Zuriel wrote letters to African politicians asking to interview them. One positive response came from Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, who before becoming involved in government was an educator and grassroots women’s rights activist. In 2012, Forbes cited her as the most powerful woman in Africa.
Zuriel told me that from speaking with President Banda, she learned that “just because there are a lot of male presidents in the world and a lot of male leaders, prime ministers, ambassadors, it doesn’t mean that females can’t try to get a position like that too.”
As she continued her research, she learned that gender inequality existed not just in politics, but in education.
“Because I’m a girl and also from African roots, I didn’t like the way that girls there are being treated. And I wanted to do something about it.”
It was with this simple, sincere idea that Zuriel began the “Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up” program, on which she collaborated with the US Embassy in Nigeria. She spoke to Grace High School and the Pan-African University in Lagos, encouraging the young women to take action and make their dreams become reality.
The most arduous public speaking engagement I had gone through by 10 was a middle school spelling bee. I still remember how my cheeks burned as I carefully pronounced each letter, my fingers clenched and sweaty behind my back. I made it to the final round, but lost when I started the word “isotope” with an “e.” I couldn’t have begun to imagine giving a speech to a room of older women, let alone in a country I’d only just visited before, on a subject as important as education.
“I want them to really understand that just because someone says you can’t do something, doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Zuriel said. And true to her own advice, Zuriel continued pushing forward in her own career. At the world press conference in Nigeria, she even competed with journalists from CNN, CNBC, and the UK Guardian to interview the Williams sisters. It was a bold step, even for such an outspoken girl.
“I was a bit nervous… because everyone’s attention was on me, but in the end, I just pretended it was only me, my dad, and the Williams sisters there.”
Zuriel quickly began to draw attention from the media, and in several articles, reporters described her as “the next Larry King.”
When I asked Ademole for his thoughts on the media’s description of Zuriel, he paused.
“It’s an honor for them to say that, but she’s just Zuriel, a 10-year-old girl who just wants to help others.”
At first, I was taken aback by Ademola’s response. Zuriel was no average 10-year-old. She had already accomplished things that I could only dream of! But as I continued to speak with Zuriel, learning about her daily activities– which include playing basketball, practicing piano lessons, and reading kids’ adventure stories– I began to realize what he meant.
Zuriel has no production team that helps her with her documentaries. She does everything herself on her computer. She developed her own project to inspire girls in Africa. She has accomplished such amazing things because of her passion and the support of her loving family.
“It’s just an honor to be her dad,” Ademola said. “We push her. Make no mistake about it! We push her, we inspire her and let her know she can always do better and she can always do more. And she tends to strive towards that.”
Zuriel is currently working on a longer documentary that will be focused solely on girls’ education in Africa. She recently visited Ethiopia and conducted interviews with politicians that she’d like to include in her film. While she is just a 10-year-old looking to change the world, it’s impossible to not imagine her as a role model for others. Zuriel herself hopes that when African parents see her, they can, too.
“I’m hoping the parents can say “oh, look, there’s an African girl and she’s 10 and look what she’s doing! We should think about educating our girls, too.”
Zuriel is a shining example of what a girl can accomplish with just a little bit of passion and a lot of courage. There are millions of girls out there, just like Zuriel, who need to know that their dreams are possible.
Zuriel said it best during her speech at the Pan-African University.
“We should dream, dream up, and dream big. In speaking up, we should not just speak; we should also take action. There is a saying that action speaks louder than words. And, in standing, you should stand, stand, and stand again until your dream becomes reality.”
Zuriel, after all, certainly dreams big.
“I’d like to maybe become an actress and then afterwards an athlete. And then when I become much, much older, I’d like to become the President of the United States of America.”
Go behind the scenes with the girls of Girl Rising with new exclusive content about the film and people involved.
In celebration of the film’s premiere on CNN, Girl Rising fans can learn more about the girls and the creation of the documentary by viewing video interviews with the writers, notes from director Richard E. Robbins’ travel journal, and information about what the girls have been up to recently!
Click on the image of each girl near the bottom of the page to read more about her involvement with Girl Rising and what she’s up to now.
How long did it take you to get to school every day? Did you travel there by car, bus, or foot? For children around the world, the journey to school often means two to three hours of walking along remote roads, many times through dangerous areas. This can make school an impossibility: whether as a result of financial strain, the danger that could come on the trek, or the sheer difficulty of walking so far every day, millions of children are missing out on education because of distance. Last month, May, was National Bicycle Month, and this is the perfect time to highlight the impact that a bike can make on the life of a girl. A bicycle has the power to mobilize girls, giving them a way to move from where they live to where they learn, and thus the means to bring themselves towards a better life.
The number of girls around the world who are out of school is staggering: 35 million girls are not being educated. And with the known benefits of educating girls, this is putting them and their communities at a steep disadvantage. A study in Zambia found that HIV spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls, while for each additional year of education a girl receives, her chance of contracting HIV decreases by 6.7 percent. Children born to mothers who can read are 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. In Indonesia, child vaccination rates are only 19 percent when mothers are uneducated.
Though primary school is compulsory in many nations, access to education for girls drops significantly once they reach the secondary school level, and this is largely attributed to the distance they must travel to get to school. There are commonly fewer secondary schools in developing countries, and they tend to be inaccessible for girls living in rural areas. These girls’ families often don’t have the money to spare for transportation costs, leaving walking as the only option – a problem, as many families will not let their daughters walk, out of safety concerns. As a result, dropout rates soar, and girls are denied the chance to better their lives through education. This can all be changed with a simple solution – bicycles.
Numerous organizations now recognize the benefits of providing bicycles to girls worldwide. Bicycle Relief is a leader in delivering bicycles to girls in need around the world – they aim to provide 50,000 bicycles to students (70% of whom are girls), as well as teachers and educational workers in rural Africa. Students in need are given basic training about bike maintenance and safety, and must sign a contract of commitment to education before receiving their bicycle. 10×10 partner organization Pink Bike has also made it their mission to equip girls with the transportation resources necessary to get the education they need. Kevin and Clare Cohen founded Pink Bike in 2010, inspired by 10×10’s own Martha Adams’ work in Cambodia for Girl Rising. 10×10 has now partnered with Pink Bike to provide Nepali girls with bicycles, as the majority of girls there live in sparsely populated and distantly spread-out villages. Since its conception, Pink Pike has delivered hundreds of bikes on three continents, and their impact is only growing. Room to Read, a 10×10 Impact Partner, also has programs in place that give girls in developing nations access to bicycles. Through donations to sponsor a bicycle for a girl, Room to Read “puts students in the fast lane, helping them navigate the road to a brighter future”.
World Bicycle Relief 2011 statistics on bicycles impact on community empowerment.
The evidence is clear – the idea that bicycles can make education more accessible for girls works. Based on results from World Bicycle Relief’s 2011 report, the early statistics on the influence of bikes in developing nations are promising. Data collected by WBR indicates an average attendance improvement of 14.4% for both girls and boys, with some individual schools reporting up to a 36.7% attendance improvement. This dramatic improvement in attendance greatly impacted student success as well – the data indicates an average improvement in term-end scores of 18% for both girls and boys, with individual schools reporting up to 35% improvement. The benefits of equipping school age children with bicycles doesn’t end with educational improvement; these bicycles had an empowering effect on communities as well, with improved access to health clinics, new opportunities to generate income, and newfound ease in visiting friends and family. Early data from World Bicycle Relief’s report showed a decrease in child pregnancy and HIV/AIDS rates attributed to the new bicycle access. A new government program being instituted in Bihar, India is also making great strides in improving access to education through the provision of bicycles to girls. The state government opened the program for girls to receive grants of $50 to purchase a bicycle, and the program was an instant success. In a state where girls’ literacy rates were only at 53 percent, the number of girls registered in the ninth grade in Bihar’s state schools more than tripled in four years, from 175,000 to 600,000.
Now that you have the facts, you may wonder, what can I do to help girls get to school? By supporting the 10×10 Fund for Girls’ Education, you contribute to our impact partners, such as Room to Read. Donations to this fund will be distributed among our non-profit partners, which also include CARE USA, World Vision, Partners in Health, Plan International USA, United Nations Foundation/Girl Up, and A New Day Cambodia, all of whom operate girls’ education initiatives around the world. With your support, we can bring education to girls worldwide – and help bring girls to their education.
We are proud to announce that Girl Rising, the film at the center of the 10×10 campaign, will be released on the eve of International Women’s Day – March 7, 2013.
Girl Rising, from Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins with voice performances by Meryl Streep, Priyanka Chopra, Alicia Keys, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and other acclaimed actors, journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.
Check out the film teaser:
Girl Rising spotlights the stories of unforgettable girls born into unforgiving circumstances. It puts a face on the 66 million girls around the world who only dream of going to school.
What’s so exciting about the release of Girl Rising is that we are putting the POWER IN YOUR HANDS to screen the film at your local movie theater. Our partner, on-demand theater distribution platform Gathr, makes it easy for you to do so – by becoming a Movie Captain:
- Go to Gathr.us/films/Girl-Rising and click on the “Gathr a Screening” button.
- Fill out the short form, including your contact information, as well as the date, time, and screening location.
- If we can grant your screening request, you’ll be notified by email, and you’ll receive a link to your screening page.
- Recruit your friends, family and colleagues to join you at the screening. You can share news about it – and fill seats – by participating in our #WhereIsGirlRising social media campaign
Once enough people express support for your screening on Gathr, the screening is “tipped” and voila! You have an amazing movie on its way to you – and a theater filled with friends eager to see Girl Rising.
This is a beautiful and important film – one that stands on its own as great cinema. Yet it also carries a powerful message: if we educate girls, we can change the world.
Collective action can lead to powerful change. So join us and Gathr a Girl Rising screening.
#WhereIsGirlRising – make it your city!
“CNN is partnering with 10×10, a global action campaign to promote girls’ education, to spread the message that educating girls in developing nations can change the world…The organization has kicked off a photo campaign to invite people to raise awareness on why educating girls is #basicmath, and we hope you’ll take part.” Learn more here.
““Girl Rising,” the first documentary acquired by CNN Films, will air in spring 2013. The film, which inspired a global action campaign to promote girls’ education called 10×10, tells the extraordinary stories of several girls from around the globe, fighting to overcome impossible odds to realize their dreams.” Read the rest here.
“The film is directed by Richard E. Robbins, an Oscar nominee for “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.” “It’s exciting in part because I feel like it freed me from the burden of including certain statistics,” he said. “I feel like CNN is going to be able to provide so much context.”” Finish the article here.