International Girls with Grit

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International Girls with Grit

Grit is defined as "firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck."  The true stories below portray unimaginable hardships for girls so young. Some lost their families and homes to heinous acts of violence during civil wars. Others were sold by their families to ease financial burdens or because the girls were deemed "worthless." Yet deep loss, fear, and shame didn't define them. Instead, their strength blossomed in adversity. This inspirational group of international young girls and women has grit - and they're using it to share their stories, speak out, and lead others to improve the lives of women around the world.  

Born in countries as diverse as Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, these girls have demonstrated a singular strength of character that those of us whose lives are free, safe and valued take for granted.  A word of caution:  these stories contain some graphic descriptions of violence that are most appropriate for mature young adult readers.  

How Dare the Sun Rise:  Memoir of a War Child
by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
As America's doors threaten to shut against refugees, this memoir could not be timelier. As a 10-year-old in 2004, Uwiringiyimana (pronounced oo-wee-ring-GEE-yi-mah-nah) and her family fled conflict in their native Democratic Republic of Congo for a U.N. refugee camp over the border in Burundi. The stay, overcrowded and miserable as the sanctuary was, proved short-lived: on the night of August 13, armed rebels attacked the camp, slaughtering 166 people. Uwiringiyimana's narrative starts with a terrifying moment-by-moment account of that horrific event. Her ability to summon the chaos and terror is extraordinary, but then, so is she. Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina
by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince
At a refugee camp in Sierra Leone, four-year-old Mabinty Bangura decides she wants to be a ballerina. She didn't even know what ballet was, but when a stray magazine photo of a ballerina blew against the fence of her camp one night, she saw her future.  Despite having skin spotted "like a leopard" and being called a "devil child" by callous relatives, Mabinty is a confident, determined, and brave young girl. Mabinty becomes Michaela after she rediscovers family and freedom, and makes her dream take flight.  

In Order to Live: a North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom
by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers 
North Korea, Winter 2007.  Ravaged by massive recent floods, international sanctions, and poor infrastructure, North Korea has little to offer its citizens. Staring across a frozen river into China, 13-year-old Yeonmi Park and her mother can see lights on in the towering buildings and figure that people there have food.  Escaping to China across a frozen river was the first decision of many that Park chronicles in her startlingly frank memoir of living under a cruel and despotic regime. Once in China, Park realizes she has traded one horrible life for another. It’s not until she escapes again, this time to South Korea via the Gobi Desert, that her prospects change and she's able to make her way to the West, where she begins her new life as a voice for freedom and change. Young women should acquaint themselves with Yeonmi's brutally honest story of determination and survival.  

Excellent Daughters: the Secret Lives of Young Women who are Transforming the Arab World
by Katherine Zoepf
New York Times reporter Katherine Zoepf became obsessed with learning about the Arab world after the September 11 terrorist attacks. She wondered what the world looked like from the perspective of people willing to fly planes into buildings, abandoning their loved ones for a set of ideals. After landing her first overseas job in Syria in 2004, Zoepf traveled extensively and lived in the Middle East, reporting on young Arab women whose lives are dictated by old world traditions and culture, yet decidedly reshaped by political protests and popular revolutions. This collection of dramatic stories offers a rare glimpse into a generation of young women living in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates who still squeal in delight at parties, tease newly engaged friends, but attend university in larger numbers than their male counterparts, delay marriage, and pursue professional careers. Young women in the US will see themselves in many of the stories and will appreciate the courage and conviction these young Arab daughters possess to work for change.  

I am Nujood, age 10 and divorced
by Nujood Ali, with Delphine Minoui
Living in poverty in rural Yemen, pre-adolescent girls often find themselves sold by their families to older men. Nujood Ali was no different, except that she was only 10 years old, and it’s illegal in Yemen to marry off a child before the age of 15. Despite a contractual agreement not to consummate the marriage until Nujood reaches puberty, her husband repeatedly rapes and abuses her before then. With fierce determination, Nujood escapes her home and recounts her abuses before Yemeni court officials and demands a divorce, a declaration unheard of by a young woman in her culture. This simple, first-person narrative, written with the help of a French journalist, details Nujood’s incredible journey out of a horrific marriage and back to a life as a changed young girl, all before she was 13 years old. Nujood’s courageous story has become a rallying cry for the plight of young abused girls the world over, but particularly in poor Arab countries where cultural norms prevent victims from speaking out against their assailants.  

The Underground Girls of Kabul:  In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
by Jenny Nordberg
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women and girls weren’t allowed to leave the house or go to school. After the Taliban's ouster in 2001, there was some progress towards women’s rights. Afghani women and girls went back to work and school. However, today, especially in rural areas, discrimination flourishes. This book looks at the furtive world of girls who pose as boys in a custom known as bacha posh. The benefits are real: these "boys" can accompany their sisters outside the home and receive an education and the families can celebrate the arrival of a male child. Some Afghanis believe that bacha posh actually improves their chances of conceiving a male child. Nordberg’s study examines this enduring custom, and readers will find the stories captivating, especially those where the girls want to remain bacha posh into adulthood to their continue their education and enjoy freedom.This is a riveting chronicle of young women longing to be equal in a society with few rights, where ironically the only way to gain any is to become men.