July 24, 2012
By ELIZA POUND
Some 16-year-old girls spend summers on the beach gossiping with friends and enjoying their freedom. Madeleine Lippey spends her summers traveling the world empowering young women.
Two years ago, Miss Lippey, who lives in Connecticut, decided she wanted to do something with her summer break. Instead of lazing around or even getting a job scooping ice cream, she volunteered in India.
“I just had the most incredible experience with the culture,” the teenager says.
She made a documentary of her time in India called the “Paradox of Our Age,” which she uploaded to YouTube. That film led to another when the South African nonprofit, Ubuntu Education Fund, invited Miss Lippey to South Africa to create a film for their organization.
While in South Africa, Miss Lippey met several young women who loved to write. It was a revolutionary moment for Miss Lippey. Many of the teenagers had been sexually abused or had contracted HIV/AIDS.
As Miss Lippey saw, writing was a tool that helped these young women express their emotions and relate to others who had been in similar circumstances.
Miss Lippey saw these women—who were as young as or younger than she—not as victims but as her friends. “They have so much light inside of them and so much to give, but are unable to because of the circumstances they live in.”
She was touched and inspired by their strength, and wanted to give them a place to share their talents. “This is what I am going to do with my life,” she decided.
So, Miss Lippey launched an online literary magazine, which now has submissions from countries like South Africa, Kenya and Australia and is working with some new writers in Afghanistan. Core to the project, called the Do Write Campaign, is an effort to not just communicate online, but to meet face-to-face with contributors and “understand what they’re going through,” she says.
Miss Lippey believes this is important because, “without friendship, connection and face-to-face interaction, we are unable to truly embody the message of ‘doing write.’ Through the Internet, a voice can be heard. Through talking and laughing, a voice can be felt and shared with others for a lifetime.”
To achieve this, the Do Write Campaign held its first conference in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in June this year. Miss Lippey traveled to the conference with four peers from the U.S. and met with South African teenagers.
At the conference, the girls opened up through an exercise Miss Lippey first saw on “The Glee Project,” a spinoff of the Fox television series. The group wrote their inspirations on the front of white T-shirts and their insecurities on the back. Afterward, they discussed their choices.
Miss Lippey’s hope is to hold a larger conference or gala next year in Malaysia with girls from all over the world. So far, she’s raised $10,000 for the campaign’s foundation, with the future goal of enabling teenagers who have suffered abuse and unlawful circumstances to publish their stories in books published around the world.
Write to Eliza Pound at firstname.lastname@example.org