Extreme poverty, modern slavery, and a life-changing monk

Guest: Nasreen Sheikh
Nasreen Sheikh was born into a rural village in Nepal to a family struggling to survive. The desperation of her upbringing drove her to work in a sweatshop as a young child where she lived and worked in a 10x10 foot room alongside 5 other people. After escaping child labor, she founded Women’s Local Handicraft to disrupt the manufacturing supply chain and create meaningful work and living wages for Nepali women. Despite beating the odds, Nasreen still wasn't free. As a young adult she found herself being forced into an arranged marriage which she managed to escape only by hiding on the day of the ceremony and petitioning village elders to dissolve the marriage. Nasreen joins us to reflect on the obstacles that she’s faced as a young girl born into extreme poverty, and why she feels compelled to shed a light on the lives of more than 250 million individuals still trapped in modern slavery.
Nepal

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Nasreen Sheikh Transcript

Sabrina Merage Naim
From Evoke Media I'm Sabrina Merage Naim. With me is Kassia Binkowski, and this is Breaking Glass, a series of conversations with women around the world who are shattering glass ceilings and challenging social norms. They are audacious, gutsy, and their stories are echoed across borders and generations in a rallying cry that is changing the narrative for women everywhere. Kassia once in a while, we put out an episode from a survivor who is sharing something so heroic, so personal we walk away feeling forever changed. Today is one such conversation. Modern day slavery affects more than 40 million people around the world, 70% of whom are estimated to be women and girls. It is truly a great privilege of this show to be able to humanize those overwhelming numbers. Nasreen Sheikh was just a child when she found herself living with six other children in a 10 by 10-foot room working 12 hours a day sewing clothing, one of 250 million child laborers around the world. Working in and ultimately escaping from this sweatshop is only part of Nasreen's story.

Kassia Binkowski
That's right. Nasreen's story starts with being born into a rural village in Nepal, into a family that truly was just struggling to survive. As a young child, she managed to escape extreme poverty, escaped child labor, and escaped forced marriage. She pulls back the curtains on these experiences today and shares how she's grown to be an entrepreneur and an activist for those who are still trapped in these circumstances. Nasreen's story is as humbling as it is inspiring. We certainly walked away with our eyes wide open. Take a listen.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Hi, Nasreen, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nasreen Sheikh
Thank you so much, Sabrina, for inviting me to be a part of this conversation. I'm very much looking forward to sharing my story with all of you.

Sabrina Merage Naim
As are we. We're very interested to hear about it. There's so much that we want to dig into but I wanted to start— You've said and I quote, "I escaped forced marriage, child labor, and extreme poverty, risking everything to experience freedom. Now I have an education, an impactful voice, and a home in the USA and Nepal". This is really the story. This is the crux of the story that we want to tease apart, and we're really honored to have you here. So let's start kind of at the beginning: you were born in rural Nepal, in a village without electricity, without health care, no cars, you don't have any documentation of your birth, you don't even really know exactly how old you are. Please paint a picture for us of the poverty you were born into. What was it like growing up in that community? What did you do as a child?

Nasreen Sheikh
Um, yes, I was born in a very, very small rural village. It is on the border of India and Nepal. And as you are saying, I don't know how old I am, and it is because of the village. Our village is undocumented, so the people who were born in that village or die in that village—not necessarily the world knows about them. And it's a very male-dominated society. Most of the women and girls are forced to live in a society where they don't have any voice, and if they do try to speak up for themselves, most likely, they will be abused and tortured, and also lose their life. And it happened when I was very young, I saw that a lot of injustices were happening all around me. And it was very normalized by society that if, for example, if a woman is being murdered, it's only her fault because she didn't listen to the man or to the society strongly enough to obey, you know, so that's why she was murdered. Or if she was killed, you know, it's her fault. If she escaped, that's her fault—like everything came on women, and yet they were least responsible of those situations. And also, they were heavily silent, and even one or two women, if they tried to speak up, they were being silenced. And when I was very young, I saw that every single girl, every single young girl was being forced into marriage around those villages. And then I also witnessed some of my aunts being tortured and abused. One of the really painful things that I witnessed is one of my aunts being murdered by her husband, and it was completely kept silent. Her death was never recorded, and police report was never filed, and husband remarried, after a few months later.

Kassia Binkowski
I just want to make a connection between what you said before and what you're saying now, which is that being in a village that was undocumented, with people who are undocumented, these types of murders like the one you witnessed with your aunt could go unreported—no police involved. And he just went on and lived his life with zero repercussions.

Nasreen Sheikh
Exactly. And not only that zero repercussions, but he remarried another young girl, so it's like he won over and over. And then if she does try to speak up in the future, she will get the same result, like murdered again. And that will be again, silent. So yeah, it's exactly like our voice is being super— so silent. And we don't have any role model to look up to or any support in these villages. We don't have educations. We are bombarded by the restrictions and don't have any choice. So sometimes, like some women speak up because they are just naturally born with that, you know, with that energy of like speaking and sharing and then if they do, then they got into that situation.

Kassia Binkowski
How did that lack of documentation impact your own life? What were the hurdles that you had to overcome purely—I mean, there's a lot of them, and we're going to talk about them in detail—but purely as a result of not having documentation; how did that shape your life?

Nasreen Sheikh
So not having documentation means like, I couldn't go to school. I couldn't, you know, go and travel anywhere. I couldn't have credit cards or bank accounts, you know. It's limited me with every single thing that could have given me the freedom to escape that situation. So not having a document and documentation puts me every time like, oh, ‘You're not allowed to do this. You are not allowed to go to the school. You're not allowed to go to the hospital.’ You can't even go and file a police report because you need to have your name, you know, or you need to have your birth certificate and things like that. So if you don't have documentation, then even the system—the government systems—declined you and don't want to help you because they think that you're just an abandoned, whatever person. So, for me, it was a huge challenge and that is what pushed me to become a part of the sweatshop as a child laborer. And I think I was around 10 years old when I ended up in a sweatshop in a small, tiny, 10 by 10 room, working 12 to 15 hours a day for a textile factory. So most likely, if somebody does not have documents or don't have anything, we end up in those situations where we are like invisible slaves for bigger factories or for the people who are in power.

Kassia Binkowski
Connect the dots for us. Where was your family during this time? Was it familial pressure and desperation, that needed income that forced you into that situation? What can you tell us about your family?

Nasreen Sheikh
So my family was— this is something that was happening very generationally. And in my father's generation, my father, he worked as a welder in the car industry. And his working condition was so horrible that before I was even born he lost his brain because he was making $15 a month, you know, and his living condition was so, so bad, and he couldn't afford nutritious food or clean water—like basic human necessities—so that pressured his brain and he became disabled with his brain, and so I didn't have a father even though he was alive. I didn't have that support as a young child, and my mother had never been to the school. In these villages—in very, very rural villages—most of the women's rights are taken away so they have become like a baby-making machine. They're not necessarily a mother, even though from the spiritual aspects they are mother, but they have forgotten the power of being a mother. So, my mom: she had like four children, and she has no education. She has nothing. Nothing. And she is carrying ancestral slavery within herself to get through life. And then she lost her husband, where everybody tells her that she's a bad karmic woman that will not be able to take care of her husband so she's being blamed over and over and over, so my mom is not able to protect because all of her tools were taken away from her to protect or be a mother. So my family was definitely very, very, very poor. And my father was disabled. And my older sister, she was 12 when she was forced and arranged into marriage. And that's when my sister was married. And I saw the struggle and pain she was going through. That really pushed me that I had only two choices: either to be like my sister and get forced into marriage, or escape and do something about it. So I decided to leave the village and go out. So that was my own curiosity and my own awareness of wanting to be not part of that, but trying to see the world, what else is out there. And that curiosity led me to be a part of the sweatshop because the sweatshop is— it's like— it's mostly the systems are set up for people like us, you know. We try to find freedom, but we end up in those situations. So for me, I could have gotten into a human trafficking or something else. But I ended up in our textile factory as a child laborer.

Sabrina Merage Naim
When you were a child and you wanted to escape the reality that your sister was going through, which was [...] going to be your reality, too. And you fled. You ended up in the sweatshop as a child laborer. Did you originally see that as your ticket out? Or did you get caught up in the system out of necessity?

Nasreen Sheikh
I think my desire was that I just wanted to study, and I wanted to do something because, again, in my village, we didn't have any electricity—nothing—so I was so connected to nature. And I just wanted to study about stars and plants and things like that. So my necessities and my survival put me and forced me into those situations.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So again, to paint the picture, you were living in a 10 by 10 room with six other children: no clean water, no bathroom. You worked 12-hour days as a child. You survived on less than $2 a day, right? And if you missed a deadline, you weren't fed. That just was it? You just were not fed. The end?

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, we were six people, and two of us were children. Me and one other girl were children. There were some adults too in that sweatshop. And yes, we were getting less than $2 payment. It was working as a quota, so we would receive like 400 or 500 pieces in a week, and we must finish those quotas in order to receive our full payment. And if we don't, then we will not get paid because the quotas didn't make it on time. So everybody in that supply chain will not get paid, you know, and the pressure is so intense, like the deadline is so intense, like you have to release those products by a certain time in a certain place. And if we feel, then the payment is very strict law, they just tell you like, ‘No payment,’ you know? That's the only way they can force people like us to be continuing to do that.

Kassia Binkowski
I mean, what you're describing is horrific. And there are more than 250 million child laborers in the world still, you know, so the system is deeply broken and affecting, you know, millions and millions of children around the world. How long was this your reality? You started when you were 10, how long were you trapped?

Nasreen Sheikh
I was trapped for two years. I could have been trapped for my whole life. But I made, again, another decision. So my sweatshop operated for two years, and then after that two years, the agent made us work for two months and he disappeared. He took the money that he's supposed to pay for that two months, and he just disappeared and left all of us, like, completely desperate and destitute. And I remember that our colleagues were, you know, finding work in another sweatshop, and I choose to be just in the street because that was the first time that I felt a little freedom because the sweatshop—10 by 10 room with 500 clothes every single day, six people eat, live, work, sleep there—was like, suffocating and very intense, you know. Many times I couldn't even breathe. And so coming out in the street, it felt like a sense of, you know, freedom. And so I chose to, you know, spend more time in the streets than going to another sweatshop.

Kassia Binkowski
Could you have left, had he not disappeared himself? Or was his disappearance the thing that liberated you, that gave you an out?

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, his disappearance definitely gave us another layer of, like, having that freedom. If he would have been operating, then we would have been part of that.

Kassia Binkowski
You could have never left. You could have never walked out.

Nasreen Sheikh
No, no.

Kassia Binkowski
You were indebted to him. Okay.

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah. Yeah.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And then how long were you in the street? What happened then? How did you live?

Nasreen Sheikh
So when I was in the street, I stayed... So that sweatshop that he left, that was still a space that, you know, our colleagues were in and out, taking their stuff, and moving to that place. Somebody was finding jobs. Somebody was not. Same for me. Like I would spend more time in the street, and then in the evening, you know, spend my time in that sweatshop still. And I think it was almost like a week or something that I was in and out with the street. And then I met this kind of person, not like— I didn't meet any organization or anything, but I met a dog that comes to sniff on me. And through that dog I met this kind of person. His name is Leslie John. And he became my mentor and my teacher, and I asked him "Uncle, can you teach me?" Because when I was in the street the only thing that really caught my attention was all these people, like children my age going to the school. I just wanted to be like them. So when I saw my teacher—I mean, in that time, I didn't know if he was my teacher; he was just that person. When I said to him, and I just literally grabbed his wrist and asked him "Uncle, please, can you teach me?" And he was so moved because he was so connected to his dog. And that was his child. And all he cared in his life is he was a monk. So he cared about books and loving his dog and living a very, very simple life, so when I asked him if he can teach me, he didn't say right away that yes, he will. He came after two days later, and he said that he would take me to the bookstore and give me an education.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So let's talk about Leslie for a second because he really is your guardian angel. I mean, he maybe saved your life.

Nasreen Sheikh
Yes.

Sabrina Merage Naim
The entire rest of your life was changed because of him.

Nasreen Sheikh
And because of education.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Thank you, yes, because of education, which he opened that door for you, but then you really had to take a lot of steps. Where did he come from? And in that region of the world, it is not uncommon to see children on the street. What made him say, ‘Yes, I'm going to help this girl’?

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, because he was so connected to his dog, and his dog was the one that was really pushing towards me, so he was already a spiritual person; he was a monk. He studied language and philosophy, and he was single man, had no family, and living life like a monk. And he was originally from the US—Connecticut—but he lived most of his life in Nepal and India. He left America when he was in his twenties, and he spent most of his life in Asia. So what made him support me is that I was not asking for money, and I was not asking for things or food. I asked him if he can teach me—and also, the commitment that I had within myself, the desire that I had, wanting to have education. So that really... like it was a slow relationship development, you know, like, he gave me something and then I gave him more back and became a really good student and learn. So I didn't go to real school. He would just come every day, one hour, and teach me in that space, and then slowly, slowly, slowly, we built a relationship that lasted for almost 12 years. I mean, we are still like— last year, he passed away, but we have done amazing things together. And we did a lot of videos together, so hopefully, we will be able to show that in the film that we're putting together as a documentary.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, I just want to really honor him. As an American man who was in that part of the world, the way that he opened that door for you and helped guide you is really remarkable. I also really want to honor you, and I have a question about this because given where you came from, where education was clearly not a priority—especially not for girls—you had no access to education. Your mother was not an educated woman. What, at such an early age, made you so sure that education was going to be your ticket?

Nasreen Sheikh
I feel like in the beginning, I wasn't understanding anything. But slowly, when Leslie came into my life and he started to teach me, then I started to understand that whatever was happening to me was a human rights violation. And whatever was happening to my village is so critical, you know? The woman and my aunt lost her life, and nobody gave her the justice. And my 12-year-old sister is being forced into marriage. And this is completely against human rights. These little pieces of information that I got through the books, and through the knowledge, I came to understand that whatever is happening in my community is that oppression is being normalized, and people have accepted it. And they made it so normalized, and they're totally okay with it. And they're forcing their children. They're letting their children go to the sweatshops, and they don't know what to do about it; they don't have that answer. And that really fueled the power in me and the curiosity in me to really want to understand why my society is so chaotic and so painful—like it's so painful to live a life in my society right now because people have no choices. They can't make any choice. Everything is controlled by a very male-dominated society. They make law for the women. They make everything for the women, and the woman have nothing to speak of for themselves, and if they do, they get always in trouble. So that was something I needed to, you know, yeah.

Kassia Binkowski
So were you ever intimidated to ask for help from a man, much less a white man? I mean, you're describing coming from this culture where, you know, it was male-dominated. Women were told they had no value, no voice, were worthless in that community, more or less. And yet, there's this tiny 12-year-old girl living alone on the streets, and you're brave enough to ask for help from a man. And that's not lost on me. I think it would be very easy to be very fearful of men coming from that place.

Nasreen Sheikh
Your question is so right, and it's so powerful. I am still terrified by the men in my society, and I don't know if I can ever lose that fear because it's so painful, what I have seen, but it depends on the man. The way that my teacher approached me—it was very loving and very assuring of care. And you know, the reason I asked him if he could teach me was because he was very insistent about like, "Come here. This dog is so kind. Come here. Feed him." You know, he showed me love. He showed me the consistent support that made me accept that, and also, like, give me opportunities to communicate with him on that authentic space; whereas still, to date, I'm very frightened by our male-dominated society. Still today, you know. Today I had a call with some people, and I'm very frustrated about how they are not helping me and how they're against me, and all that. So, you know, my teacher was just a very special man.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So fast forward in 2008, you opened your first bank account. You took out your first loan, started your first social enterprise. Tell us about Women's Local Handicrafts.

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, in 2008. So, when I started to have a little bit of education, I was like, ‘Okay, I need to.” If you go to Nepal or India or Bangladesh, you will see the desperation of women really struggling, and it gives you a lot of inspiration to do something about the situation. So, my whole idea for a Local Women's Handicraft is, like, I wanted to just create the space just literally opposite of what I have seen in the sweatshop. So in the sweatshop, I didn't have any windows. And even it was like a little tiny window and they covered it up with the thick cotton. And the door was always closed. And you know, the bathroom that maybe like so many other sweatshops was using, it was so bad—horrible condition. So I was like, I'm just going to create opposite, opposite, opposite here now. Okay, there was door always closed down; let's open a big door, you know? Let's have big windows. So when I created it, that was the vision that I wanted to do. And our shop literally just like, literally, like in two years, I started in 2008, and two years later, we had all these local women who started to come to that space. Activists, journalists, changemakers, all these people started to come to that space. And they started to have a conversation about how we can change that industry and how we all can learn and grow. And things became out of my control, you know, and I'm not doing it; people are just making it happen. And my idea was to really just create things opposite of the sweatshop just to really help people and give them basic human rights. And so yeah, that's what Local Women's Handicraft is: making sure that there's no forced labor; using as much as we can natural fabrics and recycled fabrics; we make sure that when women come, they learn about the things that really can create the whole products, not just make the same thing over and over. Like in the shortstop, I was not making the whole piece, I was just stitching the same thing thousands and thousands of times. And so in our center, the women were getting opportunities to learn the whole products by itself. And that really started, like— instead of people being machines, they became like creative designers and creative sewers and creative weavers, and that attracted a lot of business; we started to do well because we were making these things. And we were selling to the stores. And the stores were like very, like, ‘Oh, I like this, because this is just one unique piece,’ and our store will sell it. So the women were becoming more inspired by their art, and that took our store onto an international level. And in 2012, we got published in Forbes magazine when I did not even know what Forbes magazine was. So it's really giving power to creativity, giving opportunities to these women to become who they are and making things with love and care, producing with more natural fibers, providing living wage. And we never had to advertise anything on the ground to, like, ask for women to ‘Hey, come and learn here’ like it was like wildfire. And to date, we have empowered 5,070 women and hosted 1,950 professional skills training sessions.

Kassia Binkowski
I mean, Nasreen what you're describing is incredible. I mean, the fact that you escaped the poverty that you were born into, that you escaped a sweatshop and forced labor, that you were a 12-year-old girl living on the streets, and built this social enterprise, which has changed thousands of lives is tremendous. I mean, I just— I want to pause for a moment to acknowledge that because you beat every odd to make that happen.

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, and that's why I feel like all these problems that we see in the world are really solvable problems, if we can really commit to it and if we can really stop, we need to stop talking and let's do it you know? And when I reflect back on my past experience, I freak out sometimes because I do feel like, ‘Oh my god, all my sisters are still stuck in the forced marriage, you know? In my village, women are still struggling, and yet with the help of education, with the help of good people, I have come this far. And I just want to tell all these young entrepreneurs or young women or everybody, you know, use your time as much effectively you can to be in the service to the world because I feel like we can overcome anything.

Kassia Binkowski
Nasreen you have escaped poverty; you have escaped forced labor; you avoided, you know, an arranged marriage. Today, you're the founder and executive director of Empowerment Collective. When did you decide to take your story and share it so publicly? When did you decide—when did you have the courage—to take that personal trauma and share it on a public stage and start to advocate to end slavery around the world?

Nasreen Sheikh
It happened in 2015 when Nepal was hit by 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and my business really started to collapse. And I was— it was like, huge economic loss all over Nepal. 9,000 people got killed. So many of our women lost, you know, some become disabled or lost their homes, family members. And, and then right after that, Nepal was—Nepal is a landlocked country—and it was blockaded by India for six months. And that was the time that I felt like humanity was really dying, and so many people were suffering. And even my own bravery was not working, you know? So I felt very, like, you know, like I couldn't do much because I had nothing—no resources, nothing. So I decided to speak about this situation because this is just too out of my control, and I can't do anything about it. I need to speak. So one of my friends, I tell her this experience and tell like, ‘Oh my god, I can't take this. I need to shut down this project. I can't move any more further because there's no resource.’ And she tells me, ‘No, you need to do something about it,’ and she sent me the link to speak in one of the conferences. And I applied in that conference, and I got selected to be speaker in that conference. And it was for the first time in 2015. In September, I came to America, in downtown Chicago, and all of the sudden I am in front of around 250 women and sharing my story. And I have not— I didn't even understand what ‘conference’ means in that time. I don't. I never imagined that 250 women can come together and, you know, listen to another woman. So for me, that experience itself was very, you know, very, immensely hard, and, you know, challenging, but at the same time, when I spoke, all these women, they listened with, you know, with hope and with silence. And that gave me courage to, you know, share my story. So and since then I have been sharing my story.

Kassia Binkowski
So let's talk about your family for a second because even though you were successfully running this social enterprise, you escaped forced labor, you still weren't free from the expectations of your family in your village. And it's my understanding that your parents had actually planned and arranged marriage for you. Is that correct?

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah, in 2012. And I think I was 21- or 22-years-old. And I was running my shop, very successful. Everything was going so well. And my parents were like, ‘You have to get married.’ And this is very systematic and issues that a lot of the girls in Asia has to face, even if they've been to the college or universities, they have to go and get married. And it's because like, all the culture started to say to my parents, like, ‘Look, your daughter is doing this, and she's 21. She must get married’ because by the time, you know—if I become 23-, 24-year-old, then I'm too old to get married. Nobody will marry me, you know? So it's like the parents freaks out, and they feel like it's their responsibilities that they must like, you know, arrange this marriage so my family and my society—you know, my uncle's, my aunts, my society—forcefully arranged my marriage with a man that I have never met or talked to once. But that time I was like, just empowered. I had a people. I had friends all around the world. I knew how to use Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, and, like, it was very painful experience to fight with your own community again, you know?

Kassia Binkowski
Yeah, take us back to that experience. I mean, take us back to the moment that you said no. What was that like?

Nasreen Sheikh
I had to be very, very strategic with my community because it was very painful that in that time, not only my life was in, in problem, but also what I have created, you know, my center, Local Women's Handicraft, was in threat also. So I had to be very, very careful about it, so I tried my very hard to let my uncles and aunts and everybody know that I can't get forced into marriage, but they didn't listen. And when they didn't listen, then I started to tell. I told my teacher who was helping me and also a couple of my local friends—male friends—that I have developed. I told them, like, ‘Look, this is what is happening to me, and I don't want to get forced into marriage.’ So I literally built a community around this movement and built a group of friends to say, like, ‘I don't want to get forced into this marriage,’ and we created a strategy that I will have to hide. And I had to hide for a month and shut down all my businesses. All my shop was done. And then the day that they were, the ceremony was I just hide, and they couldn't find me. And in Asia, it's like, what happened is like they arranged the ceremony, and if there is no ceremony, then the marriage can't be possible. So it was... my team really helped going back to the village, you know, convinced the elders, bribes, the village leaders and cancel this marriage.

Sabrina Merage Naim
You went to some pretty extreme lengths to not end up in that position. You're even talking about bribing village elders.

Nasreen Sheikh
Yeah.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Shutting down businesses, literally hiding yourself so that you wouldn't be forced to marry. And inevitably, you became the first girl in your Nepalese village of 2,000+ people to escape that fate. How did that impact your relationship with your family in the end?

Nasreen Sheikh
Um, so I'm still kind of shunned by my village, and with the things that I have seen, but after —it’s almost been like, six, seven years now—and I see that some of my uncles are changing, and they're sending their children—their daughters—to the school, and for the first time, their daughters are going and becoming a school teacher, you know, and it's just so overwhelming for me to— to be able to do that and hold that space for the first time in that village and giving my younger cousins and younger girls in my village to speak for herself. And I have seen so many of the parents of my women that comes in work in the center, you know, they have become an advocate, and they are sending their daughters to the school. And these girls are becoming, you know, mentors and teachers and entrepreneurs, and that makes me, like, so happy. So I do see positive, a lot of positive things happen because I said no to that. In the beginning, everybody was mad and angry. But now, slowly, people are, you know, changing, and we can be better.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I just want to repeat, I think it's important, and it's really the crux of the entire conversation, which is that you sacrificed everything: every single relationship, everyone that you've ever known, any kind of support system. You sacrificed all of it to go out on your own because you knew that you needed to be free. You knew you had a different path. Going against the grain of everything that anyone in your village has ever experienced. And you suffered. You suffered because of that. You were shunned because of that. But now look—now look. And you say that it's slow, but maybe not that slow that even—you're a young woman still—even in this kind of phase of your young life that you're seeing a community, a village, that was really kind of backwards in so many different ways. You're seeing that progress. And it, in part, is thanks to you, it is thanks to all of the difficulty and the sacrifices and you pushing. And frankly, I want to just kind of say that this is what this entire podcast is about. It is about women like you who pushed beyond every single obstacle, every single boundary, wall, fence, whatever that was put in front of you—because you knew it wasn't right. You knew. It takes a tremendous amount of courage. It takes a tremendous amount of self-realization and understanding of your own potential, your own life's potential, to be able to do that. And I just really want to commend you because you're impacting now the trickle-down effect, that butterfly effect for other girls in your village. You're already seeing it. It's not that slow.

Kassia Binkowski
Well and it's something we've talked about with so many women in so many conversations: investing in a single girl or a single woman has this huge ripple effect. And I think we talk about it often in the abstract, and your story is this living representation of how quickly that change can happen when there is one person, you know, with opportunity, with access, and with the courage to chase after.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Breaking Glass is a production of Evoke Media. Evoke is a nonprofit organization that exists in order to elevate the people and stories that are working to make the world a more unified and equitable place. Learn more at weareevokemedia.com

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