Two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly in New York adopted October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child.
The aim is that the day will mark the milestones and challenges of being a young girl. This year's theme is: Innovating for Girls Education. For me, no one represents what the day intends to celebrate more than a young Canadian friend who is making a profound impact in the country of my birth. Hannah Godefa, only 15, exemplifies the best of what it means to be an international Canadian citizen.
What an impact she is having in the world.
Eight years ago, while in Axum, Ethiopia, the then seven-year-old Maple, ON resident discovered her activist spirit as she saw firsthand the poverty and shortcomings of the country of her birth. She understood that the best way to help others escape poverty is by empowering young people to get an education. She therefore decided to start an organization which she named Pencil Mountain Project in the hope of raising and distributing 20,000 pencils in Ethiopia.
Since then the group has raised more than 600,000 pencils, school supplies, accessories for handicapped children and thousands of books for Ethiopian universities by working with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. Her efforts soon became a movement where, in her activism, she met many leaders involved in world affairs including her public hero -- Craig Kielburger.
Upon learning of her efforts and meeting her in person, it was Kielburger who seemed touched by her efforts.
In an article co-written with his brother, Marc Kielburger, he described the Gr. 9 student from Markham's St. Elizabeth Catholic High School as someone who is "warm, polite and humble, but also dedicated, hard-working, and passionate about helping others. She loves Canada while maintaining a personal connection to the rich cultural heritage of her roots."
Late last year she even impressed her local Member of Parliament, Julian Fantino, and she was invited to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For Fantino, Hannah was an impressive young leader who "exemplifies the meaning of community spirit and dedication. She continues to accomplish so much in support of those in need half way across the world."
Even UNICEF also took notice of her activism and selected the teenage dynamo as its Goodwill Ambassador for Ethiopia. Upon her selection, she reflected how "it has always been my dream to help children who do not have the opportunities to reach their highest potential. The most important message I want to give to Ethiopian children is the value of education. Children are imaginative, intelligent and valuable and they truly can change the world if given the opportunities to learn" she added.
Today I remember the wise words of the late Marion Dewar in celebration on this important day. "To end global poverty and injustice, we need to recognize and nurture women's leadership," Ottawa's greatest mayor once said. Hannah Godefa seems to understand that -- not in just theory but in practice.
It is no wonder the Government of Canada awarded her the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal for all her efforts earlier this year. She was indeed a worthy candidate.
I am her biggest fan.