Back when student Alaina Podmorow was only nine, she attended a speech by journalist and human rights activist Sally Armstrong. There, she became aware of an issue of which she'd previously been blissfully ignorant — the human rights violations inflicted upon girls and women in Afghanistan.
But rather than feeling powerless in the face of such injustice, the young girl from Kelowna, B.C., who is now in grade 11, instead latched onto Armstrong's message that "the worst thing you can do is nothing."
So Podmorow decided to do something.
"The thing that impacted me the most was the fact that they were girls who were not allowed to go to school," Podmorow tells The Huffington Post Canada at Plan Canada's recent Top 20 Under 20 Awards, where she was the overall winner for the Community Service Impact Award, which includes a $10,000 donation.
Her initial goal was to hold a potluck and auction to raise enough money for one teacher's salary for one year, which at the time was $750. But she ended up with enough money to pay for four teachers for one year with the help of her friends, family and community.
That success empowered her to create Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan. In the spring of 2007, she founded the grassroots organization with twenty young girls who were similarly determined to change the world.
They have since raised over $500,000 and started 10 other "Little" groups across North America. One hundred per cent of their funds are then allocated to education programs run by Canadian Women For Women in Afghanistan.
"We create literacy opportunities through resources like providing teacher salaries, teacher training, school supplies and science kits, and libraries," said Podmorow, who travelled to Afghanistan in 2012 to see the girls she had been supporting.
"I needed to look into the faces of the women and girls who were attending school. I needed to see the change," said Podmorow, and what she saw was "a glimpse into their dreams of the future."
"We often forget just how powerful education, awareness, and understanding really is. When I was in Afghanistan, I saw girls light up with excitement and hope as they sat in their classrooms knowing that, indeed, they did matter, that they deserved to learn how to read and write, that they could contribute to the world and reach their full potential."
Podmorow's Top 20 Under 20 award is one among numerous honours she's collected, including being named Canada's Honorary Youth Ambassador for the inaugural International Day of the Girl, as well as the "Top Teen Philanthropist in Canada."
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