Ordinary Young Women, Extraordinary Leaders
Posted 12/12/2015 02:00PM

As a community with dozens of nationalities and perspectives, TASIS boasts many creative, talented students who spend their free time on interesting projects. This month we’d like to showcase a few students whose projects and leadership skills are transforming lives in various ways.

Telling Untold Stories

We begin with senior Defne Sahenk, who is passionate about empowering girls. After creating a video about girls in Cappadocia, Turkey, called Elevating Girls Voices, Defne was selected to be the youngest speaker at the October G(irls) 20 Summit in Istanbul. She has participated in Model UN with TASIS for the past three years and also performs in the fall plays and spring musicals.

How did you get in contact with the girls in Cappadocia?

I was able to get in contact through a close family friend who knows the area well.

You highlight the stories of three girls in the film: Berrack, Eda, and Ebru. What about their stories stood out and made you want to share them?

Each of them represents a different branch of jobs that are available to women nowadays: sports, arts, and business. But more importantly, each of them showed passion and wants to achieve their dreams regardless of the risk.

What steps are you and the girls taking to progress their dreams into reality?

When I was home in October, I was able to facilitate meetings between the girls and their idols, who are very successful people in their fields. We are planning to meet again soon, hopefully in March, to discuss what our next steps will be.

Tell us about your experience as a presenter at the G(irls) 20 Summit.

Honestly, it was very nerve-racking and exciting! I was the only speaker who was under 18 years old. All the other speakers were successful women in their fields! I was also able to network with the delegates and get their opinion about this project. We also talked about what it was like to be a delegate at the summit.

You say in the video that this is the first one...do you plan to continue these so we can watch these girls as they shine?

Yes. I hope to make more videos so that people who are interested in my project can watch the girls’ progress as they achieve their dreams and goals.

Is there a way that our readers can help support these girls?

Spread the word! The more people that can find out about the girls’ stories the better!

What has being involved with these girls taught you so far?

It has opened my eyes to what girls in this region are dealing with, and how living in an area with little opportunity affects a lot of their lives. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to connect with the girls to get a better sense of my roots while also seeing how one idea can never be impossible. It’s also reminded me that even in modern times we have a huge gap of gender inequality.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means taking a stand for what you believe in and not letting any hurdles that come your way affect your dreams.

*  *  *

In the spirit of Defne’s efforts to empower young women and elevate their voices, we wish to share the stories of other TASIS girls who are positive role models for their peers and are excelling as student leaders.

Amanda addresses the High School at a recent assembly.

Silence for the Voiceless

Senior Amanda McAfee (pictured above at podium) spearheaded the third annual Day of Silence on Friday, December 11. Sponsored by the TASIS Service Learning Board, this event raises awareness for the voiceless in the world. Participants buy one of five colored shirts with the word “silent” on the front and a fact printed on the back that tells the story of the voiceless in a number of areas, including education, women’s rights and equality, water and sanitation, and the environment.

What’s the background behind the Day of Silence?

It was inspired by an event at one of the Service Learning Board member’s former school. We interpreted it in our own way, and it’s become an annual tradition.

What steps did you go through to start it two years ago?

At first it was difficult, as the administration was apprehensive about it since it involved being out of uniform! It took us two months to persuade the administration to let us go through with it. We had to talk to the Headmaster and tell him that this was a student idea and we were very interested in seeing it realized.

What made you want to take the lead on this project this year? Why is it important to you?

This is an event that has a rippling effect. Throughout the year, you will often see people wearing the Day of Silence shirts, and they wear them in other places, too. It is a constant reminder of our obligations to serve the world community.

Why did you choose SOS Ticino as the beneficiary?

Of course everyone has read and seen the recent news about refugees. The issue with mass immigration and how it is affecting different countries is a very big problem that still needs to be solved and addressed. We wanted to highlight this issue and the fact that it affects us locally by supporting SOS Ticino.

How have students responded to this event?

I feel like people are definitely surprised by the statistics [on the shirts] when they read them. Visual and constant reminders of these issues really puts into perspective the lack of noticing these on a daily basis, and how they don’t seem like daily problems that affect us—but for some people this is their daily struggle.

Every year we’ve had problems with people actually remaining silent throughout the day, so this year we had the idea to wear surgical masks to remind people that the actual goal isn’t just to represent those who are silenced, but to represent them by being silent, to honor people who don’t have the opportunity to speak.

I remained silent for the duration of the day and reminded others to stay silent with my silence. Someone from one of my classes, who had slipped a few times, told me, "You inspired me to be silent and I was able to remain silent for the rest of the day." This comment proved that my efforts, and the efforts of many others, were not in vain. Many of the participants truly tried to understand the struggle of being voiceless, and by immersing themselves in silence they were able to glimpse the plague of silence that afflicts many people and is a cause found at the root of their suffering.  

What has planning the Day of Silence taught you about leadership?

This has definitely taught me the difficulties of taking something that is just an idea and making it happen. It’s taught me how to work with different people and inspire confidence in people who have doubts, and how to persuade others to see the importance of this activity. It’s shown me how different people work and how to collaborate with others.

An involved community really changes a school and changes people’s mindsets. With this event and all Service Learning Board events, we are attempting to bring service into the community. We aren’t just making it about the individual groups or the goals in the groups. We want our community to acknowledge the issues that all of our groups are taking on, and we want the events we sponsor to link our different groups and the variety of issues they tackle and address. Last year, we also sponsored the annual Walk for Water, where those in our community carry heavy jugs of water to understand the daily struggle for clean water that some people face. We also celebrated International Women’s Day on March 11 by selling blue bows and embodying the He for She campaign.

Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

In October, sophomore Elyana Ramos Berho was invited to attend the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society’s Global Meeting in Deauville, France. More than 1300 delegates from around the world (20% of whom were men) met to discuss gender equality, poverty reduction, and other global issues. Elyana represented Mexico.

Tell us about the atmosphere at the Women’s Forum.

I attended many of the sessions and was so inspired. People were networking and exchanging ideas, dreams, and passions to empower women and make a difference. I sensed great support, courage, and commitment from all the participants and everyone there had this overwhelming desire to contribute.

What events did you find particularly interesting?

The 2015 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards selected some of the most impactful women in the world, and I was amazed at how young the winners are! They are totally committed to making a change in the world.

I also was part of a great debate amongst senior leaders and young leaders, called “New Leaders for a New World.” Hearing these leaders share their visions was interesting.

I also appreciated the quality of speakers that had come from around the world. It is exciting and inspiring to get to know personally these great visionaries and leaders.

Will you continue to be involved in the Women’s Forum?
My country, Mexico, will host the Women’s Forum International in April 2016. I am proud that Mexico will be hosting more than 500 women and men to address global issues impacting women and will focus especially on women in Mexico and Latin America. I hope to attend the Mexico event, as I deeply care for my country’s challenges with social and economic development.

How has your participation changed you?
I feel deeply privileged to have been invited as a young future female leader. I got to witness the deep and insightful empowerment that women need and found so much inspiration from great worldwide leaders who are passionately contributing to make this a better world.

What did your participation teach you about leadership?
Empowerment is everything. We can change things, especially with the appropriate support. The Dubai delegation shared a quotation that resonated with me: “We have moved beyond the phase of empowering women. Indeed, we are empowering society through women.” I am also moved by a quote by Antonie de Saint Exupéry: “Our task is not to force the future, but to enable it.”

Linking Two Schools

Junior Laura Vecoli has begun setting up a student exchange program between TASIS and TASIS England. A member of the TASIS Leadership Academy (TLA) and the Cross Country team, Laura plans to study International Relations in college.

What gave you the idea for this project?

The TLA encourages you to create a capstone project of your own. My idea to make a student-exchange program between TASIS Switzerland and TASIS England began during the TLA Summer Program. I was looking for a realistic project that would benefit the TASIS community in some way. I realized that many people were curious about what our sister school is like, so I decided that a student-exchange program would be an interesting project that people might be willing to do.

How did each school respond?  

Luckily enough, I received an eager and interested response from both schools. I thought that it was going to be harder to sell my idea, but I was glad to see that the project was very much welcome. This made it a lot easier for me!

What did you learn from setting up this project?

This project isn’t finished yet, and there is still a lot of work to do. Still, it is advancing well and the results are satisfying. While working on this project I’ve learned how important it is to collaborate with others, and that dedication is crucial in order to have positive results. When you’re creating your own project, there isn’t anyone setting up deadlines for you or monitoring your work. You have to learn to be strict with yourself about getting things done and find the motivation to do your work—and not give up! I feel like these are important lessons for everyday life as well.

What has this project taught you about leadership?

Really, being a leader to me means finding and moving toward a different direction to reach a certain goal, and encouraging people to follow that direction in order to help achieve the goal together. I am not the “boss,” in the sense that I’m not “controlling” my collaborators in any way or being authoritative towards their work. I simply point out a new direction, so that others can use their skills in order to achieve the goal. If it weren’t for my collaborators, this soon-to-be student exchange program would have never developed.

A Future Leader

Finally, we introduce you to Skye Rourke, an 8th grader who is involved in a number of sports and activities, including parts in the High School plays, while still maintaining excellent grades. She also recently earned a Magnificent 7 Award for Service and has been elected President of the Middle School Student Council. We know she’ll be a student to watch in future years!

Why did you want to be a part of Student Council?

I wanted to be part of the Student Council because I really enjoyed being a part of it last year and making changes for students, however small the changes may be. I like to think that I am helping to make each day a bit better.

What do you hope to do as President?

As President I hope to do what students would like me to do, and be their voice.

What does “leadership” mean to you?

To me, a leader is someone who can guide others and help people reach their potential.

*  *  *

TASIS is proud of these young women, who are not only showing remarkable initiative but are also setting fine examples for their fellow students. In the coming months, we hope to introduce our community to more of our ordinary students who are doing extraordinary things.

powered by finalsite