1 Tuesday, December 2015

#GivingTuesday: Middle-schoolers cook up benefit for girls in Kenya

Bree Kalina (center) and her friends create menus for their cafe fundraiser, which was a service project for Bree's bat mitzvah. Bree and nearly a dozen of her friends prepared and served Mexican cuisine to raise money for the Samburu Girls Foundation, a safe haven in Kenya for victims of female genital mutilation and child marriage. --- Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina
Bree Kalina (center) and her friends create menus for their cafe fundraiser, which was a service project for Bree’s bat mitzvah. Bree and nearly a dozen of her friends prepared and served Mexican cuisine to raise money for the Samburu Girls Foundation, a safe haven in Kenya for victims of female genital mutilation and child marriage.
— Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

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.

Sweet potato-black bean enchiladas topped the Mexican-inspired menu. Those who saved room for dessert enjoyed chocolate-dipped Oreos, brownies and chocolate pan cookies afterward. --- Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina
Sweet potato-black bean enchiladas topped the Mexican-inspired menu. Those who saved room for dessert enjoyed chocolate-dipped Oreos, brownies and chocolate pan cookies afterward.
— Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

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.

Bree Kalina (top) and a friend wait for guests to arrive for the Girls' Cafe fundraiser. Adults paid $50 to enjoy the home-cooked meal, with the proceeds benefiting the Samburu Girls Foundation. --- Photo courtesy of Susan Ryan Kalina
Bree Kalina (top) and a friend wait for guests to arrive for the Girls’ Cafe fundraiser. Adults paid $50 to enjoy the home-cooked meal, with the proceeds benefiting the Samburu Girls Foundation.
— Photo courtesy of Susan Ryan Kalina

“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.”

The young chefs served their guests guacamole, salsa, black beans, Spanish rice, taco-seasoned ground turkey and sweet potato-black bean enchiladas. Guests were encouraged to make their own tacos and burritos 'Chipotle style.' --- Photo courtesy of Susan Ryan Kalina
The young chefs served their guests guacamole, salsa, black beans, Spanish rice, taco-seasoned ground turkey and sweet potato-black bean enchiladas. Guests were encouraged to make their own tacos and burritos ‘Chipotle style.’
— Photo courtesy of Susan Ryan Kalina

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.

These Illinois middle-schoolers, led by Bree Kalina (fourth from left), raised $700 for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which offers safety to girls in Kenya who are fleeing child marriage and female genital mutilation. '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,' said Bree's mother. --- Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina
These Illinois middle-schoolers, led by Bree Kalina (fourth from left), raised $700 for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which offers safety to girls in Kenya who are fleeing child marriage and female genital mutilation. ‘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,’ said Bree’s mother.
— Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

 

 

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