Connections Across Cultures
Author: Ariella Zagorsky
“When you enter this loving room, consider yourself one of the special members of an extraordinary family.” This multicolored sign hangs proudly over the entrance to the hut, beside a mural of three women holding globes on their heads. I walked inside, entering a welcoming blue room covered with inspirational and informational posters.
It was my first day in Kitwe, Zambia.
For the past several years, I have been working for the BTennis Foundation, a program run by my coach Brian Simunyola, which aims to motivate and support students at his former school who cannot afford an education. I am the Chair of Student Involvement and have organized tennis tournaments and other events to raise money for athletic equipment and facilities.
Brian often returns to Zambia to run sports camps; when he invited me to accompany him on one of his trips, I jumped at the chance. He told me that one of the camps had 60 boys and only two girls, and, shocked by this gender disparity, I decided to take action. I contacted Girls Leading Our World (GLOW), a global organization that teaches life skills and provides opportunites for girls in at-risk communities,
The girls were waiting for us when we arrived at GLOW. They proudly showed me around their clubhouse where they meet every day.
Over the next 10 days, we came to know each other like family. One of the coaches, a woman named Asa, had been a prestigious soccer player; as a young woman, she was invited to join the Zambian national team. However, her father forbid her from playing, insisting that she get married and follow a traditional lifestyle. While she had no choice but to heed her father’s demands, she found a way to stay involved through coaching.
I immediately connected with one girl, named Denise. Two years ago, when she was 14, Denise was engaged. Her friends encouraged her to join GLOW, where she decided that she wanted to be more than just a wife; she wants to be a journalist. Denise and I bonded over our love for journalism and spent hours that day talking about our lives, our beliefs and our dreams.
At GLOW, Denise discovered numerous opportunities that gender inequality had denied her. “The problem that we have is that women don’t trust in themselves that they can do everything,” she said.“I really enjoy GLOW club because it teaches me a lot of skills, like how to plait hair, how to make clothes and sew, and how to take care of ourselves so that we can control our own lives and achieve our goals.”. Denise realized she wanted to be a journalist so that she can report on the injustices in her community and change her world.
These girls became my friends and came to my tennis classes every day, filled with questions about the game and their strokes. Many expressed their desire to continue with the sport, and since I left, we have messaged each other regularly, and they have given me updates on their accomplishments and their continued athletic pursuits.
Asa and Denise are just two of the many women who struggle to live their lives how they want to because of sexism. While gender inequality in Zambia, and around the world, runs deep, programs like GLOW that focus on inspiring and empowering young women can be the seeds of widespread change.
As an outsider, I must be sensitive to the differences in our cultures and values. At the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have been given, and I want to be an ally in the fight for womens’ rights. From the girls in GLOW, I realized that women promoting women and advocating for each other will lead to greater awareness and improvement. As Denise announced at the end of our interview, “I am a girl, and I can do anything.”