Seniors Mia and Issa Win Philanthropy Award

Seniors Mia and Issa are the recipients of this year’s Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy, presented by the New Mexico Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Mia and Issa were recognized for their work with Bosque’s service learning group Women’s Empowerment League (WEL). The group held a Feminine Hygiene Drive in order to address issues related to women’s access to hygiene products, especially those below the poverty line or homeless. In its first year, the Hygiene Drive collected more than $1,000 worth of items and dispelled biases and misnomers surrounding menstruation. Their award will be presented during the 2018 National Philanthropy Day Luncheon on Thursday, November 8, at Embassy Suites in Albuquerque. 

The award recognizes service by an individual or group of young people ages 5–18 who demonstrate outstanding commitment to the community through direct financial support, development of charitable programs, volunteering, and leadership in philanthropy.  Award criteria include a detailed account of project impact on the local community, such as the financial cost, people involved, and goals met. Long-term influence is also considered for whether the program is sustainable over five or more years, and if the program may be used as a prototype for future initiatives.
 
Details about the Hygiene Drive
 
The Women’s Empowerment League (WEL) at Bosque School is a student-initiated, student-led service learning group that partners with various organizations that raise awareness of and work to improve issues women face within the community.

Inspired by an educational video showing how difficult it is for many women to access feminine hygiene products, then juniors Mia and Issa led WEL to delve deeper into this issue. They learned women spend an average of $85 a year on feminine hygiene products, that these products can’t be bought with SNAP or food stamp benefits, and tampons and pads are some of the most requested items at food pantries and homeless shelters. Women often report trading their food stamps for hygiene products, or choosing between eating and buying the necessary items. 

Issa and Mia brainstormed with the group on how they could address this pressing issue and decided on a school-wide hygiene product drive for tampons, pads, and disposable wipes for low-income and refugee young women in Albuquerque Public Schools, working with the School on Wheels and Highland High School. Next, they asked how they could make the experience as effective as possible. WEL members concluded that since boys and men are about half the campus population, their participation, as well as strategic messaging for initial and lasting impact, were critical. 

At the beginning of February, WEL kicked off the Feminine Hygiene Drive with an educational presentation in Upper School morning meeting. Combining the video with their own words, Issa and Mia highlighted how difficult it can be for young women experiencing homelessness and poverty to navigate economic, hygienic, and social challenges related to menstruation. Also included were facts about how lack of access to feminine hygiene products impacts school attendance, which consequently impacts overall success.  

Knowing that the subject of menstruation could be an uncomfortable one, they arranged for Mr. Daly, Head of Upper School, to carry boxes of pads and tampons to the front of the room to demonstrate that men shouldn’t be embarrassed shopping for these products or bringing them to school. WEL faculty advisor, Heather O’Shea, then offered to let young men come to her office and “practice” holding and carrying pads and tampons to release related discomfort and “get used to it”. That got a good laugh, but surprisingly the entire audience (approximately 300 9th-12th graders and teachers) demonstrated remarkable respect and maturity during the presentation. Issa and Mia repeated the presentation for the middle school students (approximately 240 6th-8th graders and teachers) with another beloved male teacher showing the boys it was cool to participate. Throughout the month, different WEL group members used compelling facts about the topic as reminders of the drive, continuing to engage boys and male teachers as spokespeople as well.

As a result of the on-campus awareness-raising campaign, Mia, Issa, and WEL succeeded in educating the Bosque School community about how menstrual hygiene is fundamental to the dignity and well-being of women and girls, and illuminated the particular challenges faced by at-risk females. Their inspiring efforts galvanized more conversation and altogether changed the dialogue on our campus about this stigmatized topic. “The two young women who led the group were really exceptional. Neither of them were used to putting themselves out as public speakers, so to see them do that on a such a potentially challenging topic was amazing,” said Dr. O’Shea, WEL Faculty Sponsor.

The donation response was overwhelming as well! In its first year, the Hygiene Drive collected more than $1,000 worth of items including 255 boxes of pantiliners, 36 boxes of disposable wipes, 45 boxes of tampons, a bag of loose tampons, 29 boxes of pads, and a bag of loose pads.

The items were donated to the School on Wheels and to women refugee students at Highland High School. (They refer to themselves as "Newcomers".) With the support of Angela Williams, Highland’s Community Liaison, a fun and culturally-appropriate visit brought together students from both schools. The April visit included icebreakers, games, and sharing a light meal. The Newcomers taught traditional dances from their native countries, Congo and Afghanistan. The plan was to have the WEL students teach the Newcomers how to jump rope only to find that jump roping was a favorite amongst the “Newcomer” girls, especially those from Congo. 

Transcending vastly different cultural backgrounds and life experiences, the students found commonality through their shared story -- that of being young women. Later, WEL members reflected about how the experience dispelled preconceived ideas and stereotypes about Middle Eastern and African cultures and gained a more nuanced understanding of impact beyond the service project: 

“It was really impactful to realize that even if the Newcomers were new to the US and in some cases, the English language, they were just as fun and cool as any other girl. To my surprise, my expectations were completely wrong.” ~Devon, WEL group member

Angela Williams said about the meeting, “I was very proud that no matter the difference in language, culture or race, that all the students involved accepted each other. Seeing them laugh, learn, work and play together was awesome!” 
 
Issa, WEL student leader, said, “This project ended up being more successful than I ever could have imagined because we not only got to supply at-risk teenage women with these products, we were also able to challenge the stigma around women's experiences in our own school community. It was incredible for me to see how my entire school, including the men, responded.” 
 
Beginning with the idea of helping those “less fortunate,” Issa, Mia, and the members of the Women’s Empowerment League learned a whole lot more about philanthropy. They learned that when they are able to connect with people who are different, bridges are built and lives are impacted in unexpected ways. As Issa said so profoundly, “This experience showed me that social action, when it is based in shared experiences, blurs the distinction between the giver and the receiver.”
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