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Celebrating Young Women of the World This October

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As the warmth fades away, the leaves begin to turn and stores are taken over by sugary treats and everything orange. Canadians know what to prepare for. Yet this spooky holiday isn't the only thing that makes October significant.

This month, we have the unique experience of celebrating amazing women who've inspired us and changed the world.

October is Women's History Month -- a chance to highlight the past and present contributions of women. We recognize their achievements as a vital part of our Canadian heritage. It gives us the chance to reflect on how we've benefited from women activists in the fight for women's equality. Most importantly, it gives us a sense of pride in our historic origins, while providing role models for Canadian women everywhere.

The first famine

Part of this history is Canada's caring for and empowerment of people around the world. One woman in particular who's played a significant role is Ruth Roberts of Calgary.

As a young girl, Ruth was heartbroken to see children in Ethiopia on TV, starving to death. She felt compelled to do something but was plagued by a sense of helplessness.

Those were the days of sit-ins and other peaceful protests -- and Ruth had an idea. She decided to host a "starve-in." Ruth, her close friends and her fellow church members would go without food to make a statement about one cause. Their group of 15 people received pledges from their community and raised $500 to help starving children through World Vision Canada.

Thus, one of the world's biggest global youth movements, the 30 Hour Famine, was born in a small church basement in 1971. It was thanks to the spirit and leadership of a young Canadian woman -- determined to help change the world.

Today the famine is a tool of empowerment for communities all over the world. More than just fasting, it's about helping families achieve more with their lives.

Today, Ruth Roberts and her husband hold pictures of the two children that they sponsor through World Vision Canada.

Young women today are full of their own ideas for making the world a better place.

"It's just that one idea," said Ruth in a recent interview. "It could be anything."

Carrying the torch

Today, as a young person working with World Vision, I'm so inspired by other young Canadian women who are carrying Ruth's torch -- striving to empower those around the world who have less.

Eighteen-year-old Alex Foto from London, Ontario, just came back from a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR). Facilitated by World Vision Canada and Live Different, the trip was a chance for youth to build a home for a needy family -- seeing first-hand how this kind of work can help a community thrive.

Alex formed a special bond with her roommate in the DR, Lissette Alacantara, who worked as a youth leader. Alex was truly inspired by Lissette's love for her work and the children she met. Motivated by Lissette's compassion, Alex was excited to meet other compassionate women devoted to making a difference in children's lives.

Alex came back to Canada determined to keep finding ways to help people who are battling poverty and injustice to change their circumstances.

Ontario resident Alex Foto happily learns a cultural dance on a recent trip to Dominican Republic.

"I am very passionate about ensuring that every person, especially young girls, have equal opportunities throughout the world," Alex says.

Alex has led the 30 Hour Famine five times in her home community, and is now an official Youth Ambassador for World Vision Canada.

Inspired to shape the future

Fion Fong is passionate about people. The 17-year-old from Markham, Ontario, was changed by her experience in the DR.

Before attending this trip, she'd taken part in the 30 Hour Famine but was not completely sold on the effect her fundraising was having. She couldn't actually see the change those funds had created. When she was given the opportunity to take this trip, Fion leapt at the chance.

"This trip opened my eyes to a line of work I have never considered until now: humanitarian work," says Fion.

Many young Canadian leaders who travel overseas are inspired by the very people they're seeking to help. For Fion, one of these people was Joha Reyes. A mother of five, Joha had been left to care for the children alone, when their father abandoned the family. She and her children were overjoyed to be moving into a house which the visiting group helped to build. Fion was humbled by Joha's ability to persevere, despite her difficult situation.

"She is strong because, although life has dealt her something hard, she has not hardened," says Fion.

Fion formed many unforgettable relationships on her trip. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Cole.

"I now feel that, because I have what I have, it is my responsibility to help others who do not. I am responsible for giving back. I am responsible for getting up and taking action," she says.

Fion's next steps are to attend university for architecture and then use these skills overseas.

"I want to design housing that's both cost-efficient to build and effective," says Fion. "Maybe it resists a certain natural disaster, or it allows them to have access to their own food or water supply."

Charting history

Over the decades, many young Canadian women have left their comfort zones to bring strength to young women overseas -- and be inspired by these same young women in the process.

Their journeys have just begun, but the possibilities are endless. We celebrate this month by remembering those who've accomplished so much and those who play a role in creating Canada's history of caring, from here on.

Visit www.worldvision.ca/gifts to help girls and women in crisis around the world.

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