I interviewed Maria in the lobby of a Boston hotel room, a few hours before we boarded a Boeing 747 to take us on a six-hour flight to London.
Alright, I’ll slow down and explain a little. It’s alright if you’re confused at this point. Doing a face to face interview 3,000 miles away from my home and then flying to London with that person isn’t exactly standard procedure when I conduct interviews. But, this was a bit different.
Sixteen students including Maria and I had won EF Tour’s Global Citizen Scholarship, which allowed us to travel to Europe for two weeks largely for free. While it was enjoyable traveling to the typical touristy spots in London and Paris and gaining more a global perspective on life, the best part of my experience was by far meeting extraordinary individuals like Maria. After finding out about what she has accomplished so far, it seemed only natural to spotlight her on Youngchange-Bestchange. Here’s what she has to say.
1) Can you give a brief unique description of your organization for our readers? How can they get involved? Maria described how she started her nonprofit organization Pretty Purposeful three years ago, which collects funds to raise awareness of and combat obstetric fistula. This condition primarily affects women in underdeveloped countries and can have catastrophic effects on their day-to-day lives. Pretty Purposeful currently focuses on helping women receive aid for this condition in Kenya, Malawi, and Sierra Leone. So far they have raised enough funds to carry out 85 surgeries, and hope to expand even more in the future. There are three main ways to get involved. Those interested in supporting the cause can donate, buy products from their store, or add Pretty Purposeful on Facebook or Twitter.
2)You recently traveled to Africa for your organization. Could you elaborate on what you did there? Maria visited clinics and hospitals and met with doctors, staff and patients there. She also collected good amounts of photos and data along the way. Since she was going through the Freedom From Fistula Foundation, no donor money was used to pay for the trip. She described it as a truly life-changing experience for her, and went on to say how it was fantastic to see that her work had made a concrete difference on other people’s lives.
3). What has been your biggest challenge in starting a nonprofit organization so young, and how have you worked to overcome it? The lack of awareness has definitely been an issue. It is extremely rare to see women suffering from obstetric fistula in developed countries, so many individuals in these areas don’t necessarily know just how serious the condition can be.
4) What advice would you give to a young adult who wants to make a difference but doesn’t know how? Find something that you feel passionately about and then discover how you can uniquely address that problem. You can donate talent or time to a bigger cause or even start your own initiative. Just make sure that your approach is unique.
5) Along with confounding a nonprofit organization with your sister, you are also a founding member of Youthcorp. What do you hope to accomplish through YouthCorp, and what do you envision for its future? The purpose of YouthCorp is connect nonprofits and initiatives and work towards a common goal of changing the world. (Fun fact: Youngchange-Bestchange is part of YouthCorp!) Maria told me that there’s a lot of exciting things coming up in the future for the organization, but she unfortunately can’t talk about them just yet.
6) Some people don’t pursue their dreams of starting an organization or working on an outside project due to the rigors of school. What has it been like juggling schoolwork and managing your organization? When you have free time, what do enjoy doing? Maria told me that she didn’t have any major problems managing her organization, as she takes classes online and has a relatively flexible schedule. But in her free time, she likes to make artwork and work on graphic design. She also casually let me know that she has a black belt in Tao Kwon Do as I subsequently took a mental note not to annoy her during the trip.
But I learned a lot more during our interview than just not to mess with someone who has a black belt.My belief that young people are the best catalyzers of social change has been shaken at times. Yet, its times like these, interviewing fellow teenagers who are committed to changing the world, that my faith is restored. Maria and other individuals like her serve as a very real reminder that change is possible, and that change happens best when young people are leading the charge. Whether it’s fighting obstetric fistula or encouraging youth to find their voice, we’ve all got issues that we are passionate about. The only question that remains is if we will accept these challenges and make a difference, or sit back and hope that someone else will do it instead. Maria chose the first option.
Interview By: Sam Gorman, Founder of Youngchange-Bestchange
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Youngchange-Bestchange believes that change stemming from the younger generation can be the most powerful. Together, we will explore hot political topics and social injustices, all with an emphasis on how youth can make an impact.