Belinda Hamilton interviewed our favourite teen mentor about her latest girl power project.
The rite of passage of having a Pen Pal seems to have died out with email and instant messaging. Was the Pen Pal Project 2014 an initiative with traditional paper and pens, or was it mostly electronic?
The Pen Pal Project 2014 exchange was electronic due to our limited working time frame–Monica Murphy, the girl’s teacher was in their village for only a few months. Originally, we wanted to use traditional paper and pens; however, their mailing service would not allow our letters to arrive until weeks after we sent them. We wanted to communicate back and forth as much as possible, so we resorted to email. The only source of technology Monica had with her was an iPad. The girls read our emails and responded on the iPad one at a time, so we still received their authentic answers, and the iPad served as a learning tool for the girls as they experienced advanced technology.
Most of the girls featured in the Vimeo clip look to be around 15. What are their biggest worries?
The girls’ biggest worries are very similar to young girls in the United States, as they were worried about their relationships with friends and family, social status, and getting good grades. Bullying is a big deal in Ghana; however, since the majority of them do not use social media, everything is done in person, which quickly results to violence. Another big issue that was discussed was the pressure to fit in. Just like here in the United States, the girls got excluded from groups of friends and felt that they were not good enough to socialize with the richer and more “elite” girls.
What was the most difficult question you were asked?
It is so hard to choose the most difficult question I was asked because I was honestly so impressed at how intelligent and curious the girls were about serious issues. They wanted to know what leadership meant to me, how to become a leader, how they could have the opportunity to attend a University in the United States, etc… I even had to do some research for some of the questions, such as “How do I become the President of your country?” Their determination and drive was astonishing, and it makes me sad that these girls, who are already so intelligent and starving for an education, are deprived of it. Meanwhile, my peers here in America complain that their parents are “making them” go to college. It doesn’t seem fair.
What do you hope the PenPal project achieved?
I hope the PenPal project inspired these young girls to believe they can be anything they want to be, and they shouldn’t allow their background or current economic status to deter them from their dreams. I also hope it made them realize how bright and successful they already are, and that they should have confidence in themselves. Part of the purpose behind the PenPal project was also to inspire others in the United States and help them realize the beautiful and intelligent girls that are being deprived of a higher education in not only Africa, but other parts of the world as well. A lack of peer to peer mentorship is apparent. I can only imagine what these girls could achieve if they had positive mentorship on a regular basis.
What other projects are you involved in or do you plan to develop?
I am currently in Stoneham, Maine working at Camp Susan Curtis and giving Girl Talks to inspire the girls there to be kind to each other, confident in themselves, and to THINK before they speak, type, or text. This is my second year in Maine. I love seeing the message take hold as these girls find their Girl Power. My future plans are to organize a trip to meet my Pen Pal girls and continue our conversations. Although any type of positive communication and mentorship is a great opportunity for young girls, I always prefer to meet with them in person; I feel that it makes a larger impact. I am realizing this more and more as I work with the young girls here in Maine and develop meaningful relationships with them. I can’t wait to come back again next summer! Another project I am excited for is the release of my second book this fall titled “Kissing Frogs: In Search of Prince Charming.” This book is written for high school girls as they begin the dating process. My stories, lessons, and exclusive chapter “The Good Guys” written with J.K. Schaffer, linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, gives girls an insight to finding a good guy, aka prince charming!