I will never forget brushing my fingers across my great uncle Adam's arm, where his number was tattooed permanently, and feeling his pain as I looked in his eyes. "Never again," he told me. From that moment on, I knew it was up to me to share his words, memories, and experiences in order to prevent atrocities such as the Holocaust from occurring again.
Ever since I was a little girl, I was taught to understand and be aware of the horrible genocides that have occurred all over the world. I always had a difficulty comprehending why there were such evil people in the world but I took it upon myself to become educated and compassionate.
In sixth grade, my family hosted a Rwandan genocide survivor named Richard Kananga. I was eleven years old and was attending an all-girls school that was teaching me to become a leader and follow my passions. Richard told me many stories about girls who became the heads of their households at a young age, and so would never have the opportunity to pursue their passions. Children my age couldn't afford an education and instead had to take care of their families and focus on surviving. Many children became orphans and lost all hope for the future.
After hearing this, I immediately thought of my uncle. The most important thing my uncle Adam taught me was to show compassion to others and spread the message of "never again." In honor of my uncle, I went back to my middle school to create a movement. I named it "Richard's Rwanda IMPUHWE (Inspire and Motivate Powerful Undiscovered Hope for Women with Education)." We started as a small club that held bake sales and car washes to raise money for Rwandan girls that Richard had put us in touch with.Richard taught me that the small amount of forty dollars can send a young girl to school for an entire year. We were determined to send as many girls as we could to school, in hopes of empowering and strengthening women for a better future. At only 11 years old I realized that that female education is a pressing issue in our world and since then has been determined to motivate my peers to create actual change for girls just like us.
Fast forward nine years, and Richard's Rwanda IMPUHWE now supports the educational needs of 50 Rwandan girls, and has sparked a movement of hundreds of students in the United States donating their time and money to reduce poverty and ultimately change the world. To date, my team and I have raised more than $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations, increased Rwandan student's access to technology and launched an annual cross-cultural educational trip to Rwanda for American students. After personally making nine trips to Rwanda, I also witnessed how the program not only supports schooling, but helps combat gender discrimination, reduces child mortality and empowers young women to become wage earners and leaders in their communities.
The success of the program has most recently led to recognition from The Helen Diller Family Foundation. It's a huge honor to receive the Foundation's Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards on behalf of Richard's Rwanda IMPUHWE and all of the people who have supported me along the way. I have always grown up feeling a special connection to Judaism and my Jewish identity. It has shaped who I am and the values I live by. Tikkun Olam, which means "to repair the world," has always been a leading principle in how I live my life. Giving back to the community and making a difference is an instinct I feel I was born to do largely because of my Judaism.
By receiving the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, I feel as if I have done my part for both the Jewish community and the world. It is an incredible opportunity to be welcomed into the Award's alumni network, and meet other young Jewish change makers. It's inspiring to know that there are teens across the nation working toward change. I'm thrilled to come together in unison to collaborate over a sharedpassion for philanthropy - together we can all make a difference.