“Sow a seed and the earth will yield you a flower.” —Kahlil Gibran
Spring is here with wildflowers that blanket the fields and roadsides. At Connecther, too, we are seeing beautiful flowers bloom from seeds we planted with your help. We are excited to share a few highlights with you.
School Cited for Excellence
In December a school founded by the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), our project partner in Afghanistan, was honored with a letter of appreciation from the Ministry of Education in Herat. PSYPS No. 1, which serves 538 students in grades 1–10, was selected as one of just four schools to receive the recognition—out of 184 schools evaluated. Connecther supporters fund scholarships for girls at four AIL schools, two in Herat and two in Kabul.
We were pleased but not surprised by the school’s success. Our work is effective because we fund projects that are run by local women leading grassroots organizations. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, who founded AIL, has devoted her life to providing high-quality education and teacher training in a country traumatized by war.
Clearly, the formula is working. Congratulations to the institute, to the students of PSYPS No. 1—and most of all to you, our donors, for giving the gift of education to Afghan girls.
Meet Our New Board President
Another secret of our success is that we attract passionate and hardworking board members. Our new board president, Dr. Meena Vendal, is a shining example of that passion. We are lucky to have her serving on our board!
Dr. Vendal is a board-certified eye physician and surgeon. In 2004 she received sub-specialty training for glaucoma treatment at Harvard Medical School's prestigious Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and she won accolades for her research in low-tension glaucoma at the New England Ophthalmological Society. We are thrilled to have Dr. Vendal, who brings to Connecther the same dedication that she displays for her patients.
Girls Impact the World Film Festival Awards Held on
March 28 at Harvard
Special Film Fest Edition Coming Soon!
Connecther's 2015 Girls Impact the World Film Festival Awards were held on March 28 at Harvard University in partnership with the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative. Presenting Sponsor Eloise DeJoria presented the amazing filmmakers with their awards! There were many special guests in attendance including Eloise & John Paul DeJoria, Michael Einziger, Ann Marie Simpson, Kirsten "Kiwi" Smith, Joanna Lipper and many more!
Girls Impact the World Film Fest Presenting Sponsor with finalist filmmakers from left, Sarah Khan, Jaci Herron, Eloise DeJoria, Jacqueline de Gorter, Gloria Hong, Amanda Neuhouser and Liliana Caracoza
See below for a few of the films that were screened and presented with awards. See our winner's page here!
Empowerment Through Integration (Grand Prize Winner): A Portrait of Sara Minkara by Gloria Hong. This short film tells the story of a young Lebanese American woman blinded by macular degeneration who aspires to bring social empowerment to blind youth in underserved countries.
Historias Indigenas (1st Runner Up) by Liliana Caracoza. Rural indigenous women in Veracruz, Mexico, speak out about their lives. In a place where grinding poverty, alcoholism, and violence against women is a reality for many, the group Xochitépetl is teaching women about their rights.
Emerging (2nd Runner Up) by Jaci Herron. Think girls lack the confidence to lead? Think again. This film features interviews with three dynamic girls leading their schools’ student council, broadcast news, and robotics club.
ISIS Crisis (People's Choice Winner) by Amanda Neuhouser. This dramatic monologue, set against the backdrop of war and inspired by true events, relates the story of one girl fleeing ISIS in Syria—including the fateful moment when she lets go of her mother’s hand.
Eye of the Beholder (Honest Beauty Winner) by Ciara Edwards-Mendez, finalist judge Ian Somerhalder comments on this film: Whoa… I don’t even know if I would call this a film but rather an “experience”. Its raw, personal, and uncensored quality made it painstakingly intimate. We spend so much time in our daily lives within the same perspective of this young woman: fixed to a screen. We live in a digital age of endless information which connects us, empowers us and launches global action YET we cannot deny the dark side of this new realm. The destructive powers of bullying and the surreal and superficial expectations of our patriarchal society have bled into the digital sphere. This is something we must fight against as we consciously evolve with new technology and digital outlets.
The Ripple Effect (Green IS Winner) by Sarah Khan - Green IS category sponsored by the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. Women around the globe are on the frontlines dealing with the impacts of global warming. These women in Pakistan are finding a solution by conserving the precious resource of water through rainwater harvesting.
Sarah Khan, who won second prize for Green IS at last year’s Girls Impact the World Film Festival and first place this year, has made the BBC’s 2014 list of 100 Women. The 16-year-old filmmaker has focused the attention of the media and world leaders on the issues raised by her film Harvesting Hope, about Pakistani women and girls affected by pesticides exposure from their work picking cotton. Last year Khan showed that a five-minute film can indeed impact the world when she was invited to screen Harvesting Hope for global leaders at the Asian Development Bank.
First Girls Impact the World (GITW) Chapter launches in Pakistan on International Women's Day!
Filmmakers Sarah Khan (see Girl Power above) and Mahnoor Omer, ages 16 and 14 respectively, screened their social documentaries on women's issues, which have received international attention and acclaim.
Khan then screened other short films from the Girls Impact the Film Festival. The audience was particularly moved by Point B, a short film by Kathryn Harhai (see Q&A below) and its message that “it is far more admirable to be strong than perfect.” That message started a discussion about Pakistani filmmakers like Haseena Moin, who used film to break stereotypes about women—and portrayed admirable strong women who are role models for young Pakistani girls today.
Sarah Khan launched the GITW chapter to inspire other young social activists to make their own films. ”Many students in Islamabad want to create social change and positively impact their community, but don’t know how,” says Khan. “Filmmaking is a great medium to do that. You don't need the best filmmaking skills to create a powerful and moving film that may be used to ignite social change. Simply telling human stories can create mass scale awareness—or influence international policies, like it did in my case.”
Special guest Anam Abbas inspired the audience with her words about her experiences with storytelling and filmmaking. Abbas is the producer of Zunn: Showgirls of Pakistan, a film about dancers trafficked into the sexual entertainment subculture in Punjab.
The event also featured songs and dancing, and young women in the audience painted a mural to mark the day. Purple glazed cupcakes and chocolates were handed out to attendees. The event was well attended despite the bad weather in Islamabad. Posted one of the organizers. “We were particularly happy with the turnout of young boys who participated in the celebrations and gave out red roses to all the women and girls present to show their appreciation.”
Fund a New Project!
Fund Scholarships for Girls in Gaza
Poverty has risen sharply in Gaza after eight years of economic blockade and occupation. According to the World Bank, half the families in Gaza now live in poverty, and one in three workers are unemployed.
A new Connecther project, Scholarships for Girls in Gaza, will plant the seeds of opportunity for promising Palestinian students.
The project will fund undergraduate education through the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance (MECA), founded in 1988.
The scholarships will provide a brighter future for young women like Areej Mahmoud Abu Moaamer. Areej lives in Rafah, a crowded refugee camp on the border with Egypt, where her family of 11 struggles
to survive on just $300 a month. This year Areej received a $1,000 scholarship to study pharmacy at Al-Azhar University. Since she didn’t have the funds for the commute to the university, she lives with her grandfather so she can walk.
When she graduates, she can contribute to her family and her community—and gain economic independence for a lifetime. Special thanks to our board president, Dr. Meena Vendal for being the project ambassador who is leading this effort!
Q&A with Kathryn Harhai
2014 Girls Impact the World Film Festival Winner
Viewers of your film, Point B, love that it is both candid and inspirational. What inspired you to share your personal story with the Girls Impact the World Film Festival?
Thank you, that truly means a lot. I stayed silent about my abuse for many years after it had happened. I had only ever confided in a handful of people. But even when I did confide in those few people, I preferred to do so in creative ways. I've never been great at talking about my feelings, but I've discovered in recent months that I'm great at expressing them through creative platforms—primarily film and poetry.
I discovered this love for creative expression at one of my favorite coffee shops in Denver. One of my closest friends and I had a ritual of going there every Sunday during high school to do homework, drink tea, and talk about life. We spent a lot of time laughing, and, when it was necessary, crying. But no matter what kind of day it was, I left that coffee shop feeling strong, loved, and empowered.
I began to spend those Sundays writing poetry and editing films in the comfort of the big sofa, green tea in hand. It was in that coffee shop that I wrote the letter to my five-year-old self that later that day became Point B. I shared the letter with my friend, and she immediately told me to make a film out of it. I went home, and after an hour and a half of filming and editing within the walls of my bedroom, Point B was created and submitted to the Girls Impact the World Film Festival.
After years upon years of silence, it was the love and support of my friend, and the creative energy of this special place, that inspired me to share my personal story with an audience greater than just those closest to me. After years of letting emotions build up inside me, I had grown and healed. It was time to share what I had learned in the process.
Has making the film changed you in any way?
Absolutely. It has made me realize the power and importance of sharing one's story. As I mentioned in the film, silence has a way of masking itself as a solution, only to cause more harm in the long run. From my experience creating this film and breaking the silence, I've learned that sharing one's story, no matter how hard it may seem, is the best thing you can do to help heal yourself as well as others.
Have you used this experience or your film to inspire others to speak out against abuse?
A few months after the GITWFF Awards event, I shared my film with students at my high school. I had no idea what to expect, but I decided that if I could help or at least give comfort to one person in that audience, it would be well worth it.
A few days after the screening, I received a letter from a girl in my grade, describing her similar experience with abuse. She said that she was still in the early stages of the healing process, but that my story had given her hope that things do get better. Upon receiving this letter, and learning that my peer was beginning to take control of her story, I knew that I had made the right decision in sharing my experience with others.
Since then, I've been working to speak out against abuse in any way that I can. I am a member of Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault at my school, which works to create a safe space for survivors on campus. Additionally, I am a member of groups called the Feminist Coalition and Body Positive—clubs that promote empowerment and challenge inequality. This week I will share my film and speak about my experience in a panel called Survivors Speak Out.
What was the highlight of GITWFF awards event 2014?
The highlight was the incredible energy created by every filmmaker, speaker, and audience member at the event. The passion of every person in that room left me feeling inspired, supported, and empowered. It was truly an amazing feeling.
Do you have any plans for your next project?
I have a collection of sticky-notes in random places on my wall and in notebooks, all of which have ideas for different films. I guess the next step is to just pick one and make it a reality! I'm hoping to create one or two more short films by the end of the semester, definitely one dealing with the topic of body positivity, and another a (short) documentary about air pollution in Ontario, CA (near where I live). I'm also taking a documentary filmmaking course this summer, so hopefully that will equip me with the technical skills to start taking some of those sticky-note ideas to the screen!Kathryn Harhai’s film, Point B, was the grand prize winner of last year's 2014 Girls Impact the World Film Festival. She is a Colorado native currently studying Environmental Science at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. A feminist, environmentalist, and activist, Kathryn pursues every opportunity to let her voice be heard. She is a member of A Cleaner Tomorrow (an environmental education group), the Feminist Coalition, and Body Positive. At Pitzer she works with Advocates for Survivors of Sexual of Assault and is a committee member of the Green Initiative Fund. In her free time, Kathryn enjoys hiking, reading, and playing the ukulele.
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