What do you get when you combine a passion for education, a lifelong dedication to multiculturalism, and a natural tenacity for organizing? You end up with Girl Rising ambassador Natasha Stevens!
Since Natasha was young, her parents always emphasized the importance of education and schoolwork. Finding her groove in her studies, she took this message to heart - continuing her pursuit of learning to graduate school, and later as a Spanish teacher. Because of her father’s work as a federal attorney and in the military, she grew up in many different countries. Wherever she went, her education followed.
With this early exposure to various parts of the world, Natasha identifies as a “Third Culture Kid,” witnessing both the differences between cultures and the singular humanity we all share.
“Being a Third Culture Kid makes me more open and tolerant and, above all, understanding and more quick to help people from diverse backgrounds,” she says.
These lived experiences shaped her perspective on how necessary universal human rights are, and made her more accepting and willing to advocate for people from diverse backgrounds and identities. Later, as a teacher, this outlook prompted Natasha to advocate for multicultural and experiential learning, even leading trips for students to experience the cultures they are learning about.
But, even before then, Natasha had her own experience witnessing a major human rights afflictions right in her community.
“While attending graduate school in Costa Rica - I had my first real encounter with little girls who should have been in school. During lunch break, my colleague and I went to a nearby cafe to eat, she said. “…a young boy…ran up to us asking for 25 cents in exchange for three pencils. We couldn’t turn him down.”
Then, as Natasha and her friend stood up to empty their trays, the boy asked “¿Vas a comer eso?” (“Are you going to eat that?”) Surprised, they said “No,” and gave the boy their leftover food. In the next few minutes, more boys and girls, who all looked no older than seven, came running up with the same request.
Natasha and her friend were shocked. After purchasing fresh food and drinks for the children, they asked why they were not in school during the middle of the day. One little girl replied that she couldn’t go to school because she had to work, and this was the group’s lunch break.
Months later, Natasha saw one of the girls from the very first day. This time she was no longer working and was enrolled in school. Because of that moment, Natasha has ever since been motivated to advocate and promote girls' education and universal rights.
Stories like these are not uncommon - with far too many children out of school because of crippling rates of poverty. Witnessing or experiencing stories like this is not uncommon for Natasha either - she vividly remembers falling victim herself to discrimination while walking home from school one day.
“All I remember seeing was myself and my host sister jumping down into a ravine for safety on our way home from school as a man pulled a gun on us vowing to take our lives,” she remembers. “In that moment; I was Girl Rising. As a former professor; I have always been super protective of my female students and made sure the young men knew how to do the same. I’m still a bit protective to this day but they, unlike millions of girls around the world - have had and do have their fair shot in safety at an education.”
As for other girls, she says, often “Someone has to be their voice.”
This is why she continues to organize, fundraise, and build awareness for universal education and human rights for children - especially girls. Currently Natasha is working on a handful of projects emphasizing the importance of education and her personal passion for connecting to students.
Natasha wants everyone across the world to recognize and appreciate each girl’s value and worth. No girl, she notes, should have to “settle for leftovers – in food or in education.”
To read more about Natasha’s current work and to track her current projects, you can follow her on Twitter!