By In Her Shoes Guest Contributor, Carlisha Williams: Founder and Executive Director of Women Empowering Nations
There are experiences in life that forever change us as they shape and mold us into exactly who we were created to be. At 21 years old in The Gambia, West Africa, I had that experience where I finally found myself, my identity, and joy I had been searching for since childhood.
Growing up, I was often the only black girl in my classes and regardless of intentions, I always felt like I did not belong. There were obvious differences like my hair, skin and body; but then there were subtle factors such as a lack of positive representation in history books, on television and on the sports teams I participated in. It wasn’t until I went to college and had the opportunity to travel to Africa that I began to understand just how extraordinary my unique features are. Each time my feet touched down on African soil, I felt I was home.
Since my first journey in 2007, I have been back to the continent 17 times and have taken 30 black teenage girls from the United States along with me through my non-profit organization, Women Empowering Nations (WEN). During these travel seminars, WEN provides exposure and develops platforms to equip young black girls to become global leaders. An essential element of this work lies in self-esteem development and identity exploration.
I have witnessed global travel as an incredibly powerful tool in helping black girls discover their identity. Here’s why:
- Developing a Worldview- We live in a global society where girls need a platform to lead, create change, and do business around the globe. On these travel seminars, I saw exposure expand their expectations. In addition to the experience of travel, WEN hosts the Girls Leading Our World Leadership Conference where we do an exercise that demonstrates how the world operates and who suffers when we don’t have a global perspective. This exercise teaches participants about globalization, sustainability, and accountability in a hands-on simulation with American and African girls learning together. In addition to this activity, the young ladies spend the week together, attending school, visiting with families in the villages, exploring the country, and learning in workshops from African female leaders. Girls leave this experience valuing diversity, challenging bias, and empowered to lead as global citizens.
- Building Confidence- It is not unusual for human beings to inherently desire to know who they are. WEN builds experiences designed for young women to tell their stories, make connections to their ancestry, and be empowered by our similarities. The perspective gained by our young women is invaluable as their eyes are opened to find they have so much to relate to in Africa. From Tulsa to Tanzania, girls realize there is healing in these connections to discover and love themselves.
- Nurturing Sisterhood- As our travel seminar came to an end this year, one of our participants from Oklahoma stood in front of the group of over 50 Tanzanian girls and said to them, “You are my sisters.” Through their joys, pains, and the opportunity to share their stories, relationships are built beyond borders. What we find is girls, regardless of geography, socio-economic status or circumstances, are facing similar challenges. Teen girls around the world are dealing with issues related to self-esteem, character, self-worth and are in need of someone to champion for them.
That’s why Women Empowering Nations exists. To help black girls see that there is a place for them in this world, in a society that does not always tell them that it’s so. We exist because we know that exposure can open up a window of endless possibilities.
We are proud of our girls and look forward to providing exposure to more young women on the next Travel Seminar in 2018 to Egypt and Ghana. Click here to learn more about how you can help girls see the world.