After studying abroad for a semester at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Quito, Ecuador, Bridget Gorham, MCAS ’17, will be travelling to Cusco, Peru, on a mission to empower young women and girls in the region. She is currently a political science major and is a key member in Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG) at Boston College. Her project is centered around the lack of gender parity in Peruvian education. She will be working with an international pilot of Strong Women Strong Girls, which is present on BC’s campus. SWSG is already located in two U.S. cities, Pittsburgh and Boston, but they have greater visions than simply young women in America.
Aptly named Mujeres Fuertes Niñas Fuertes, Gorham’s goal in Peru will be to empower young girls through education, and to encourage them to stay in school as long as their male counterparts.
Gorham noted that when she was volunteering at an elementary-level school in Ecuador, she saw the gender disparities firsthand, and noticed that it was even worse in the poor regions of the South American nation. She noted illiteracy, pregnancy, a need for help working, and societal barriers as keeping these girls from going to school. Sometimes, she said, they would just stop showing up for seemingly no reason. At times, the school did not seem to care. That is one thing that Mujeres Fuertes Niñas Fuertes wishes to change.
“You know, you see stuff like that and you just want to help,” Gorham said.
Gorham will also be working with Peruvian Hearts, a locally-based charity that provides financial and social support for young women who wish to continue their education. Peruvian Hearts currently works with girls aged 13 to 23, but Gorham hopes to expand that vision by opening up to girls as young as six.
“It sounds really hopeful that Peruvian Hearts can help us out,” Gorham said. “They have a lot of volunteers and staff that would be crucial.”
Gorham will mostly be performing this venture on her own, however. She will be the only college-aged volunteer working to spearhead Mujeres Fuertes Niñas Fuertes, and she will also be teaching English through Centhro Tinku in order to help pay for expenses. The nerves didn’t seem to shake her, but she did emphasize that her isolation and lack of potential support could be a daunting task.
“That’s definitely the part that’s the most nerve wracking,” Gorham said. “I’m really spearheading this on my own. It’s just me, and I’m excited but nervous, too.”
Despite the nerves, Gorham has not been shaken from her goal. She has already drummed up plans to help the girls get the nutrition they need after school, something she said can be a challenge for Peruvians who eat a lot of potatoes, rice, and other starches without eating as many vegetables, fruits, or proteins. Peru has a wealth of delicious fruits, yet locals (especially women and children) often do not take advantage of the plethora of natural treats.
“I talked to a nutritionist because I saw that for lunch they get just a cup of mush,” she said. “He definitely said that [getting the girls to eat] fruit would be a great thing.”
This foresight is the type of planning that Gorham has had to undertake in order for her two-and-a-half month service trip to be a success. But this trip isn’t just about nutrition, it’s about empowering young girls to get as good of an education as young men. Almost 15 million girls around the world have never set foot in a classroom, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and about two thirds of adults lacking in basic literacy skills are women.
This is something that needs to change, and Gorham wants to be a pioneer in the effort in Peru. Channeling BC’s mantra—men and women for others—Gorham hopes that her efforts can begin a more sustainable and effective movement.
“I think empowering girls to see the importance of their education should absolutely be on our agenda,” she said. “Ensuring they are excited and able to go to school is immensely important.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Bridget Gorham