“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
For those of you that do not know yet, I am currently volunteering for a social centre in Genova, working with children from six to thirteen, doing workshops and creating the space for learning, equality and inclusion. Since I have started this project, I learned what it meant to be inside of a small community, a place where we can share, learn and make mistakes while trying to actually inspire, to create, to change and exchange for the better, to welcome and include every participant.
I have learned that any individual can actually make a change and inspire others through thoughtful action. With the interest comes the energy. So there I was, organizing, according to my knowledge and humble experience ( must say I have learned a lot on the way), a workshop for the teenage girls, a workshop which I did not want to name but was opened to model and see on the way – since I was opened for discussions on many topics, according to their interests.
That is how we started to talk about topics such as beauty, puberty, sex, falling in love, being bullied and self-confidence. Truth is, it was not rare to see that they were struggling with situations which they do not know how to handle (and why not admit – there were also situations when I also did not know how to J) and of course that they had lots of questions.
I thought to myself how lucky they were to have someone to share their queries and ask for advice – not many of us did when we were their age. So I started to feel responsible, do my best and, as they say –try to ‘show up’ – authentically. Times have changed and these days teenagers are assaulted with so much information, where cultural standards brought from their home country stand in sharp contrast with the European ones and of course, create insecurities and lack of confidence. Or if from Europe, they sometimes are coming from families that do not have the time and the attention required to listen or guide. Because yes, sometimes just listening can do miracles. Furthermore, seeing that your opinion counts- is a first step in creating that strength.
At the same time I realized that so many other girls might just need the same, and that we are responsible, each and every one of us, to tell them – that one day – they will become someone, that life is not a fight, but an act of love, and most importantly that they are not alone. Us women sometimes are too harsh on ourselves, we tend to always compare, evaluate and even rival with other women. Where it should be just the opposite. Now more than ever we should support and sustain each other, to understand that making mistakes is a process of learning and that questioning and sharing ideas on beauty and life in general – could only lead to one conclusion – to learn to be ourselves.
And of course, that is strongly linked with knowing, accepting and loving who you are. It is easy to say – love yourself – it is more difficult to put it into practice. And how do you even do that when you are at an age when there’s a revolution starting inside of you, where beauty ideals are so rigid and influenced by media and where you only want to have that perfect hair and body, those cool clothes and the attention of the boys in class?
I believe though that education is key here and not education in the strict, rigid sense, listening, allowing and teaching girls to trust in being themselves, to find their own voice, in spite of what others might say or think.
Finally, I guess the lessons I wanted to share are – to take a break, to play, to experiment, to connect and learn from each other. I also know that these workshops have helped me see that I have my share of responsibility – to give back and to align who I am with a higher purpose. I think this is something that each of us could do – if we have the intention and if we want a better future for the next generations.