Since I was a little girl growing up in Jamaica, I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with technology. I remember being so fascinated with electronics- always wanting to pull them apart to see how they worked and to see if I could put them back together.
The summer of my gap year I signed up for a couple Microsoft courses. I walked in on my first day and noticed that of the 20 or so students, there was only one other woman. “Not a problem,” I thought. After a couple minutes the teacher walked in and he took a look around, and I remember he had this smug look on his face and he said to me, “You might as well quit now. You’re a girl, you’ll never make it through this course.” Looking back, I am grateful for his words. They pushed me to work harder and complete the course, and our interaction made me realize I would always be expected to work twice as hard as boys.
College was the same way, too; you could count the number of girls in the Information Technology classes on one hand. It was a boy’s world. So, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I got the opportunity to join the HelloGiggles family. My friend sent me a link to the site and I just started clicking around. I noticed they were looking for interns, figured it would be a long shot seeing as I live in another country, but I sent an email anyway. Turned out the distance was an issue, but I guess I was lucky because they made an exception. The experience has been nothing short of incredible; these women are strong and brilliant and they made being a woman seem like the best thing in the world.
It was one of these incredible women who recommended I watch the “Half the Sky” documentary. For me, it hit so close to home. It forced me to realize that I’ve been living in a bubble, and while the reality of the girls featured is not my own, it is the reality of many, many girls around me.
All across Jamaica at this very moment there are so many girls unable to attend school because of circumstances beyond their control. Then, there are the girls who are afforded the chance to go to school. They’re attending great high schools but they’re wasting the opportunity. Maybe they’re uninspired, maybe they don’t feel like education can make a difference in their world, maybe their home situation is too much and they lack focus in school. It is so easy to look away, to brush things to the side and say, “I have my own things to deal with,” but how will that change anything?
This past May, I turned 23 and I can’t effectively put into words what I felt, but let’s just say it was my moment of clarity. For the first time in a really long time I felt this overwhelming sense of purpose, like there is something I needed to do. I was beyond lucky to have discovered HelloGiggles and all these truly inspiring creatures who so easily provide a sense of community. Women who make you feel like there isn’t anything you can’t do just by being. My mother, my aunts, my cousins… I have been blessed to be surrounded by strong women, but so many girls don’t have positive female role models. They’re stuck in situations where they’re considered worthless and disposable, and soon they start believing it because it’s all they’ve ever known.
I want to show them something else. I want to show them they CAN. Because her problems are my problems, she is my sister, my friend and her suffering is my own.
This country cannot be better if women are not apart of the solution. I believe this with my whole heart, and so I’ve decided to launch a non-profit organization. The foundation is called “With Much Love.” Love is the foundation of all good things, and this is a great thing. I’ve been asked to document this journey for and I am so happy to share it with each and every one of you. I know this will be no easy task, but the reward will be great, and I hope this inspires you in some way.
With Much Love will seek to provide mentorship programs for girls between the ages of 8 and 21 across Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. We’ll seek to empower and educate these girls on the ins and outs of feminism, as well as show them how education and a little determination can make even the worst circumstances better.
Our goal is to build up the girls and to rebuild our nation. Women are usually considered “the weaker sex” here; too often we’re told girls should be seen and not heard, but we’re ready to change that. We’re ready to show every little girl that her words are powerful- her voice can change the world.
This is my first big project and I’m beyond excited and a little scared, but I’m confident we will make a difference. I’ve enlisted the help of Danielle Hylton, an amazing soul full of love; Gordon Swaby, CEO of EduFocal; Katie Vaz, branding genius, and other like-minded friends. The support I’ve already received is overwhelming and as we go forward I know it can only better.
I welcome you to follow along on this journey.
Stephanie Barnes is a freelance developer, Bollywood trivia expert, occasional HelloGiggles writer and lover of cheese trying to make a difference while figuring out what it truly means to be a woman. Say hello, @sayebee.