Author Archives: Edie Gross Evans
In January, several members of the Too Young to Wed team had the privilege of conducting an Adolescent Girls Photography Workshop with some incredible young women in Kenya, all of whom had escaped child marriage. In honor of today’s International Women’s Day, we’d like to share the following piece about that experience, which was first published by National Geographic and reprinted with their permission.
“Every two seconds a girl is married,” says photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who’s going on her 14th year of documenting the issue of child marriage. The issue has gained traction in the global conversation, but Sinclair knows that the girls affected need help now. “We have to make sure we’re reaching them on the ground,” she says. “It’s really important to walk the talk.”
In an effort to do that, Sinclair started a nonprofit, Too Young to Wed, in 2012. Just a few weeks ago it partnered with Fuji Film and the Samburu Girls Foundation (SGF)—an organization that rescues vulnerable girls from harmful practices in rural Kenya—to put on a photography workshop for 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 14.
At the beginning of the workshop, as Sinclair was showing the students her photography, she asked about their familiarity with child marriage. A girl named Angela raised her hand. She had run away when she heard she was going to be married off. Sinclair then asked if any of them had heard of a situation like Angela’s. The other nine girls raised their hands—they had all escaped marriage.
“Girl empowerment is one of the strongest prevention techniques to end child marriage,” says Sinclair. By teaching basic photography skills, the workshop affirmed the value of their voices and their stories—stories that many of the girls had never told. That soon changed.
Their first assignment was to make a portrait of a partner. As Sinclair explains, “We paired them off into twos. To make a great portrait you have to know who you’re photographing; you have to share your story with your partner. Some girls had never shared their stories before. That was very powerful. We were a little taken aback when they had such an emotional reaction, but some of the girls who had shared their stories before said, ‘No, no. They need to do this.’ ”
A small, but dedicated operation, SGF has rescued almost 235 girls from traumatic situations. Its teams try their best to provide education for the girls, but they don’t have the resources to offer counseling. In its place, the photo workshop became a form of therapy, beginning the process of healing.
The vulnerability the girls exchanged is visible in the portraits they made.
“It was really unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” says Sinclair. “The portraits that came out were quite powerful for girls who had only picked up the camera the day before. I think they found photography [to be] a way to communicate what they’d been through.”
The finale of the workshop was an exhibition of the photos, when each girl who wanted to had an opportunity to present her work and share her story. To prepare them, the teachers coached the girls to amplify not only their visual voices but also their speaking voices. Sinclair describes first meeting the girls, when many of them spoke in a whisper.
“We were worried that their voices would be so soft the audience wouldn’t hear them,” she says. “The more confident they got, the louder they spoke.”
The afternoon of the exhibition, about 70 people came—chiefs of the girls’ villages, some of their parents.
“Each girl presented the photo they did of the other girl,” says Sinclair. “I left it up to them what they wanted to say about the photographs they did of their friends. Most of them shared their stories. All of them talked about what they wanted to be when they were older. And all of them talked about how they wanted to help the community and prevent girls from going through what they had gone through.
“They got up there and screamed into the microphone so much that it was cracking: ‘My name is Jane. I am 12 years old. I have been circumcised, and my parents tried to marry me off.’ The audience was crying, the girls were crying. We were all crying. It’s almost like they were taking their power back and expressing all these things that they wanted to say for the first time to the public, to their community.”
As 2015 comes to a close, the Too Young to Wed [TYTW] team would like to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to our wonderful supporters and partners working with us to end child marriage around the world. You have helped us raise awareness of this crucially important issue and support the millions of girls around the world who have sacrificed their futures by becoming brides too soon. TYTW accomplished a tremendous amount in our first year of existence, and we could not have done it without you! Your commitment and support helped us:
- Partner with the United Nations and The New York Times on a multimedia project about the devastating effects of child marriage in Guatemala. This November, nine months after the story’s publication, Guatemalan lawmakers passed legislation raising the country’s minimum age of marriage to 18!
- Collaborate as a founding partner of The Girl Generation on a global effort to raise awareness on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). TYTW shared the powerful story of FGM survivor Kakenya Ntaiya, who was engaged at just 5-years-old but negotiated with her family to remain in school, then went on to earn a Ph.D. and open a school for girls in Kenya.
- Partner with the Canadian government to host several global photo exhibitions, including one in Khartoum, Sudan that catalyzed the adoption of a national strategy on child marriage. TYTW also hosted photo exhibitions in the United States, Bangladesh and Argentina.
- Exhibit in Photoville 2015, a photo extravaganza in N.Y.C. that attracted more than 76,000 visitors and featured installations, workshops and panel talks, including one with TYTW Founder Stephanie Sinclair. The event coincided with TYTW’s first print sale, which raised funds to help us provide support in communities where TYTW works.
- Participate in the First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa this November in Zambia, where leaders from across the African continent discussed challenges to ending child marriage (more on that in 2016!).
- In addition, for her work covering child brides, Sinclair received the prestigious Art for Peace award at the annual Science for Peace World Conference in Milan, Italy, and the Lucie Foundation Humanitarian Award in New York – further raising the profile of the issue.
While 2015 was a big year for us, 2016 looks even bigger – and with our talented and inspired team, and your generous assistance, we expect to help the world take its biggest steps yet toward wiping out this harmful practice forever.
If you would like to do more to help us in the global fight against child marriage, there is still time left to make a valuable, tax-deductible donation to Too Young To Wed before the year concludes.
Once again, thank you for standing with our girls and helping us amplify their voices so that we can make change together. From our homes to yours, we wish you a peaceful holiday season.
In honor of #GivingTuesday—the global day of giving that kicks off the charitable season—Too Young to Wed is sharing the story of an Illinois seventh-grader who is helping child brides.
Bree Kalina was looking for three or four friends who could help her raise money for girls in Kenya who were fleeing child marriage.
But word spreads fast at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, Ill., and pretty soon the rising seventh-grader had nearly a dozen volunteers who wanted to pitch in.
“All my friends, whenever I’d tell them, ‘You have a chance to help girls in Africa,’ they were so excited,” said Bree, 12, who organized a fundraiser in August for the Samburu Girls Foundation as part of a service project for her bat mitzvah.
The foundation provides a safe haven for victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation and is among the initiatives supported by Too Young to Wed.
Bree is no stranger to public service. She’s volunteered at soup kitchens with her parents and two younger sisters before, and she’s participated in book drives aimed at providing resources for inner city schools. Each child who celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah at Shir Hadash Synagogue is expected to complete a service project, and as Bree prepared to become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, she looked for a way to make a lasting impact.
Before Bree was born, her mother, Susan Ryan Kalina, had worked as an editor at the Chicago Tribune alongside photographer Stephanie Sinclair, Too Young to Wed’s founder. Susan shared with her daughter information about Too Young to Wed, which supports efforts to end child marriage and assist child brides. Bree decided she wanted to raise money for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which keeps about 30 girls, ages 7 to 16, together in a safe house and uses donations to help the girls return to school.
Bree’s rabbi helped her brainstorm ways to raise money, and ultimately, she opted to host a dinner at her home. That’s where her friends came in. Over a two-day period, they packed into the Kalina family’s kitchen, creating menus and signs to welcome their guests, preparing guacamole, salsa and Spanish rice, and baking sweet potato-black bean enchiladas, brownies and cookies.
They laughed a lot, said Bree. But they also discussed how traumatic it would be to be pulled out of school, married off to a stranger and separated from their families.
“It was really fun teaching all my friends that this is actually going on,” said Bree.
“It was so sweet to see all these little girls super excited to help,” said Bree’s mother, Susan. “They were really into it. It showed the power and the drive behind children and what they’re capable of when you point them in the right direction.”
When they were done slicing, mixing and sautéing, the girls changed into white shirts and black pants and then served their guests, who paid $50 a person to dine. The effort raised $700 for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which will use the money to cover housing and food for the girls it rescues.
“I thought I was going to do something teeny, like when you have a lemonade stand,” said Bree. “I didn’t think it would be this big.”
Bree also completed a second project, by volunteering at a Chicago center for homeless teens. Her efforts dovetailed nicely with the Torah portion for her bat mitzvah, which emphasized the importance of helping one’s community and treating all its members with dignity and respect.
Those who participated felt like they got as much out of the experience as those they were trying to help, if not more, said Susan Ryan Kalina. And Bree and her friends felt empowered by their ability to help others, she said.
“To know at such a young age that you could do something to make a big difference in a child’s life . . . it’s an awareness of the power every one of us has,” she said.
Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives like the Samburu Girls Foundation as well as other groups committed to helping child brides and victims of female genital mutilation and other harmful, traditional practices. Contributions to Too Young to Wed are tax deductible.
At 15, Aracely was resigned to being a single mother.
It had been almost two years since her husband left, declaring that the child she was carrying wasn’t his. Her son was a toddler now, and the man who had married her—when she was 11 and he 34—hadn’t so much as sent a letter since his birth.
“I thought I’d have a better life,” said Aracely, who lives in Petén in Guatemala’s northernmost region. “But at the end, it didn’t turn out that way.”
In an effort to improve the lives of thousands of girls like Aracely, Guatemalan legislators passed a law last Thursday raising the country’s minimum age of marriage to 18. It had been 16 for boys and 14 for girls, though girls often married or entered legal unions much younger. The new law, approved in an 87-15 vote, allows girls 16 and older to marry with a judge’s permission in some cases.
The Guatemalan congress’s action comes nine months after The New York Times published Child, Bride, Mother, a project by Too Young to Wed’s Stephanie Sinclair featuring more than a dozen photos of Guatemalan child brides and their children, many of them premature and critically ill. Sinclair traveled to Guatemala in the summer of 2014 as part of a Too Young to Wed project with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Guatemala was the 10th country where she’d documented the issue of child marriage.
“We are so incredibly excited about the Guatemalan Congress raising the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 18 for girls,” said Sinclair. “We realize that changing the law will not change the situation for girls right away, but we are grateful for this wonderful first step.”
Human rights groups like UNICEF and Save the Children were among those who lobbied hard for the change, noting that 30 percent of Guatemala’s girls—and as many as 53 percent in rural areas—were married before they turned 18, resulting in early pregnancies, a high infant and maternal mortality rate, truncated educations for the girls and an unending cycle of poverty, malnutrition and domestic violence. According to UNICEF, Guatemala recorded 74,000 births last year to girls between the ages of 15 and 19, and another 5,119 births to girls 14 and under.
Between 2009 and 2013, nearly 5,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were married in Guatemala, according to national statistics. Thirty of them, like Aracely, were between 10 and 12. That’s far too young, Mirna Montenegro, a physician, sociologist and secretary of the Observatory on Sexual and Reproductive Health in Petén, told Sinclair.
“A child is not able at 12 or 14 years to buy cigarettes or go to a place and buy a beer or buy an alcoholic drink. They cannot vote either because the age in Guatemala for voting . . . is at 18 years. So how, if they cannot do that, . . . can they marry at age 14?” she said. “ . . . When you follow the story of these early marriages and pregnancies, you realize that in reality these girls have lost most of their rights.”
Funds raised during Too Young to Wed’s first print sale will support efforts to empower girls and women in Ethiopia, Kenya and earthquake-stricken Nepal.
Though the sale ended Tuesday—after a 48-hour extension due to high demand—donations from around the world continued to roll in. By Thursday, more than 400 individuals had donated time, money and expertise toward the nonprofit’s first major fundraiser.
“It was a huge success, and we are left humbled and deeply moved by your generosity and support for an issue that clearly means so much to us,” said Too Young to Wed founder Stephanie Sinclair, whose images of child brides have inspired advocates and policymakers to push for an end to child marriage. “We are so pleased that so many of you have chosen to take this journey with us.”
The print sale coincided with Too Young to Wed’s exhibit at Photoville 2015, a photo extravaganza in Brooklyn, N.Y., that attracted more than 76,000 visitors to workshops, panels and installations this year.
“Photoville was amazing. They really supported our work in a very generous and beautiful way,” said Sinclair, who shared the nonprofit’s mission with hundreds of visitors over the course of the week. “It was almost like a coming-out party for us. People didn’t know we were an organization.”
In addition to Photoville, Sinclair credited the event’s overwhelming success to publicity from a number of media outlets—including the New York Times, Time and National Geographic—as well as support from numerous humanitarian organizations, like the Ford Foundation, One and the Girl Effect. Facebook and Instagram promoted the effort, and Twitter users—among them Tony-nominated Broadway performer Stephanie Block and “Gotham” cast members Ben McKenzie, Morena Baccarin and Erin Richards—championed the cause. Even singer Ricky Martin trumpeted the event on his Instagram account.
“We got so much love,” said Sinclair. “We know that love and support is meant for the girls, and we promise we’re going to do everything in our power to support them and bring an end to child marriage.”
Too Young to Wed was launched on Oct. 11, 2012 – the first International Day of the Girl Child – as a multimedia partnership with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to raise awareness of child marriage, assist child brides and bring an end to the practice that affects one girl every two seconds. The organization officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in February 2015.
Its primary focus will always be to “provide powerful visual storytelling, then bring our girls’ stories to the world to help inspire an end to child marriage,” said Sinclair. The nonprofit will continue to raise awareness about child marriage and offer support to on-the-ground projects in the communities where the girls in the images live, to promote positive change.
The organization is still tallying contributions from its inaugural print sale, but intends to use the proceeds primarily to help three communities: the village of Gombat, outside Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where an adolescent empowerment initiative aims to help girls in rural areas; The Samburu Girls Foundation in northern Kenya, which provides shelter and education to girls rescued from child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; and Kagati village in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, where an earthquake this year flattened homes and the village school, leaving young girls that much more vulnerable to child marriage.
Too Young to Wed has begun conversations with partners in those communities to work out the details, and specifics will be forthcoming, said Sinclair.
“Meanwhile, we are now busy preparing the studio for this huge print run! Expect your prints to arrive in the coming weeks,” she said. “And from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”