Instead of gifts for her recent Bat Mitzvah, Woodward seventh grader Emily Bronstein started The Seraphine Project and asked for donations to begin a mentoring club for young girls in Africa.
What inspired you to start The Seraphine Project?
It's always filled my heart to help others. Up until now, I've mostly gotten involved with local projects such as making some meals for a shelter or doing special things for residents at a home for the elderly. That got me thinking about what I could do beyond my local community, but to be honest, I wasn't sure how to get started. Lucky for me, a family friend introduced me to "Auntie Priscilla," who created an organization to help girls in Africa called Global Sojourns Giving Circle.
I thought it was perfect because I am inspired and supported every day by female role models. I felt that if I could help these girls get mentoring and guidance similar to what has been so valuable to me, it could really make a difference in their lives. The Seraphine Project is my first attempt to use my voice and passion to raise awareness about how important it is for young girls, especially in places like Zimbabwe and Zambia, to have mentors who can help them develop into confident leaders.
How much has been raised so far? And how will the funds be used to help girls in Southern Africa?
I wasn't sure about having a fundraising goal at first, but with lots of hard work and support I hope to raise at least $8,000. That's because it costs about that much to fully support each "club" for a year. (There are 14 up and running so far.) This includes making sure there is a safe, welcoming place to meet plus having great mentors or "aunties" who often come from far away to help out. It also includes supplies for projects and for building life or work skills. It might surprise people to know that some girls walk as far as two hours each way just to meet with their mentors. That's how important the experience is to them.
So far I am three-fourths of the way to my goal. That has me thinking about new ways to tell the story and inspire others to support The Seraphine Project. I am planning to write blog posts to keep people informed about the amazing things happening at the clubs. But I'm also still learning about other ways to fundraise, so that's the hard part.
What overall impact do you hope The Seraphine Project will have in Southern Africa, and what impact has the project had on you and your family?
GS Giving Circle and The Seraphine Project believe we can change the future in poor, struggling villages by making sure young girls grow up to become confident, strong leaders. Women play especially big roles in these communities. So when they learn new skills to help their families earn more money, or they decide to stay in school longer before starting a family, the community gains new role models and mentors. I love the saying "changing lives one girl at a time."
My family support has been awesome because they want to see me make a difference in others' lives, and they want to make a difference, too. Later this year we will travel to Zimbabwe in order visit some clubs, spend time with the girls, and meet their mentors. We all want to see firsthand how the clubs truly work and where they need our help most. The trip also will allow me to make new friends, tell the story even better, and begin to think about the club I hope to form.
We understand you just celebrated your Bat Mitzvah in California. Can you tell us about the experience and what it meant to you? Has being a Woodward student helped you to learn about the importance of giving back?
Becoming a Bat Mitzvah is a rite of passage into the adult Jewish community. Getting prepared requires knowing the Hebrew alphabet, then learning over multiple years how to read and chant many prayers. The celebration itself is a one- to two-hour religious ceremony where you are responsible for leading the congregation in worship.
At my synagogue, one of the requirements of becoming a Bat Mitzvah involves performing "tikkun olam," or acts of kindness. That's what inspired me to do something big and special to help those in need. On a personal level, the experience itself was quite life-changing. It truly made me realize how blessed I am and what a wonderful support network I have. This meant so much to me and I am still on "cloud nine" from the experience.
Being a student at Woodward played two important parts. First, a science project where I learned about lions in Botswana really got me thinking about the people, culture, and challenges in a country I hadn't known about. Second, something I've always hoped to have as part of my Woodward experience is the opportunity to someday travel abroad to a country like Zambia or Ecuador.
I just never dreamed my Bat Mitzvah plus family, friends, Auntie Priscilla, and schoolwork would together inspire me to start The Seraphine Project. It is such a great feeling to know that I am making a difference in girls' lives in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My goal beyond this year is to start a club of my own, including planning where it will be, staying involved with the girls and mentors via Skype or WhatsApp, and making sure the girls have everything they need to succeed. I know that sounds ambitious, but making a big difference probably almost never happens easily.