When a child lives in a community facing incredible challenges, such as poverty, unemployment, and malnourishment, it’s easy to see why they might not believe they can have a bright future.
But I know a girl who proves this wrong. Her Ojibwa First Nations community in Lac Seul in northwest Ontario has experienced trauma for generations. Reina herself has lived in and out of six foster homes where she faced abuse at the hands of her foster parents. As a 17 year old First Nations girl, she is a member of one of our country’s most marginalized groups.
Despite these trials, Reina joined her community’s youth council at age 14, and at 15 became Youth Chief. She graduated high school earlier this year decorated with awards, and started the culinary management program at Centennial College this past September. A member of our Because I am a Girl Speakers Bureau, she also filled the shoes of the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to mark 2016’s International Day of the Girl and as part of Plan International Canada’s Girls Belong Here initiative.
For Reina, being a leader has been part of a “childhood dream for as long as I could remember. The path that I am on now should be the path that most indigenous youth should have.”
The confidence that Reina has in herself and her vision for her community blow me away. I am honoured by the trust she has shown in Plan as we work to provide opportunities for girls here in Canada, and around the world, to take the lead and spearhead change in their communities. And as I reflect on the past year, I am staggered by, and incredibly thankful for, Plan’s community of generous supporters. Your trust in Plan, just like Reina’s trust in Plan, is —particularly in these precarious times—critical, because it bridges the divides that threaten to separate us.
You give to Plan because you believe that the change needed to make the world a better place can only happen if we have faith in one another. You do this by sponsoring a child and providing them with opportunities to rise out of poverty. You do this by ensuring that women and babies have mosquito nets to thwart epidemics of malaria. You do this by supporting girls to be decision makers and redefine what leadership looks like.
As part of the Plan community, you value the need to protect basic human rights and the principle of doing no harm. You value inclusivity, the agency of children and the inherent power of girls. You also value the importance of collaborating with and empowering individuals, communities and institutions to lay the groundwork for long-term, positive change.
As a wise poet once said, “Trust one who has tried.” Plan has been working for over 75 years in some of the most difficult contexts in the world to help some of the globe’s most vulnerable youth. Your trust in Plan is critical because it has allowed us to overcome obstacles, learn and grow, and press forward in the face of the barriers that have prevented gender equality. At current rates, it will be decades before girls and boys are treated as equals, but with your confidence in our ability to create transformative change, we are, as an international federation, leading the charge for girls’ rights and declaring that we can help 100 million girls learn, lead, decide and thrive by 2022.
Words cannot express how much I appreciate your faith in Plan’s work, and your firm belief that the children we are helping will improve the future for everyone. I have immense gratitude for your confidence in us, and for the generosity that comes with it. And I hope that as we step into 2017 we can, like Reina, focus on bridging the divides widened in 2016. Let’s do this together by trusting in our shared values, and by building our community through our shared vision of making the world a better and more equal place for all children. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season, and a happy and healthy 2017!