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.