As many of you know, I HATE voting contests. I refuse to participate or promote them because I think they’re dumb. But my friend Heather reached out to me and because of her story, I made a one-time exception to my rule. In fact, her story was so touching that I not only voted for her daughter, I offered to let her write a guest post to tell you guys about why she’s doing this.
Sharing a Little Light
By Heather Kamia
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine urged me unrelentlessly to enter our little girl, Yeleen, in Macy’s Little Stars Photo Contest. We were skeptical, as my husband, Ibrahim, and I didn’t want to involve our daughter in anything too exploitative. Yeleen, whose name means “light”, is a child of two lands and cultures, the U.S. and Mali.
My daughter has yet to visit the country of Ibrahim’s ancestral roots. We hope to take her one day. Before we were married, we returned to West Africa to meet his family. I fell in love with the human warmth of the region and the people who embraced us. Despite limited means, we were welcomed generously, from a ride up a steep hill to a cold drink of ginger juice. Everywhere we went, we were showered with “Bonne Arrivée!” and a warm embrace or handshake.
I want my daughter to know this Mali, this half of her physical and cultural roots, a glorious country filled with a rich myriad of peoples, music, histories and cuisine. A land that was once the epicenter of religious knowledge and academic advancement with the oldest university in the world residing in a place called Timbuktu. Today, it is also a nation struggling under the weight of extreme poverty and regional political strife, where 12% of the women are educated and the third highest birth rate in Africa can be found. (United Nations, 2012 CIA World Fact Book) This is not the Mali my daughter will live, but it is her charge to know about and, perhaps, work to combat one day.
How does this relate to a contest where one has to vote daily on an adorable baby of their choice? Much to our complete surprise, Yeleen quickly became one of the highest contenders. Out of over 4000 photos, she achieved 300 votes in two days. While she is not yet winning, we were still blown away and realized that if we put some time and effort in to promoting her, she might actually have a chance at the $15,000 scholarship for college one day.
$15,000. What an awful lot of money.
In Mali, this would send 1,500 girls to school for a year. And it struck us- just how privileged we were to even have access to such an opportunity. My daughter, God willing, will go to college with or without a scholarship. She has the support and unfailing belief of her community in her potential. She does not know the barriers of deep poverty, exist within clearly defined gender roles or face the inevitable reality she’ll have to work to help her family before advancing her own education.
We realized that there was an opportunity in this experience. In supporting Yeleen, whether or not she won, girls in Mali could be given an immediate educational advantage.
We all get appeals from friends and family with such laborious requests- asking us to vote or sign a petition or advance a good luck charm and we grudgingly and diligently take the time. Today, we are asking. Yes, for our daughter’s possible future, but also for the girls of Mali who will benefit from each of your votes.
For every 1,000 votes we receive, we will donate $100 to the Batonga Foundation – enough for a young woman to go to school for a year.
Founded by the famous singer Angelique Kidjo, the Batonga Foundation’s sole mission is to support the education of African girls.
One day, whether or not a scholarship from Macy’s helped her get to college, I plan to tell Yeleen about the outpouring of love that surrounded her candidacy and, in turn, the love we were able to share with the sisters of her father’s homeland. By sharing her light, the light of her being and heart, an inequity was illuminated and addressed. She is part of the greater global solution; part of the human family.
To Ibrahim and I, one of the most profound gifts we can give her is the knowledge that she can be a blessing to others; to exercise her global citizenship and see that her decisions and presence hold impact beyond the immediate scope of her own experience. Thank you for your support of our daughter and our daughters around the world, whose futures will hold new promise.
To support Yeleen in the contest, log in to your Facebook account and click on http://tinyurl.com/8b4vqcp. Accept the Macy’s app and search for “Yeleen” if her photo doesn’t automatically pop up. Please consider voting daily until November 8. You can also see more photos and videos of her at www.facebook.com/yeleenkamia