Spirit of Giving: 'GirlForward' founded to help teen girl refugees

July 4, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Get a group of teen-aged girls together and there will be no shortage of chatting. But these girls are not discussing boys or fashion. They are comparing cultures.

They are all participants in a group called GirlForward. It is dedicated to supporting adolescent girls who were forced to flee their countries.

Blair Brettschneider started the group after seeing firsthand how girls often struggle.

"Girls are in a unique position in the refugee community and really around the world because they are leaders in their families. . . but most of the time are given the fewest resources. We provide education, mentorship and leadership opportunities to our girls through our programs," said Brettschneider, founder and executive director, GirlForward.

Although the girls come from all parts of the world, they say they find comfort in their many commonalities.

"What I liked was it was all girls and the girls were like me. They are immigrants that come from different countries are new to the country. So I'm like yeah, I think I'm like part of the group. So I think it would be better for me to go with a group that is for me," said Aklesiya Dejene, refugee from Ethiopia.

"Here like all have different culture and religion and all have different values something like that. Like my religion is Hindu and others like they are Christian, and Muslim something like that, so I learn about other cultures," said Karuna Adhikari, refugee from Nepal.

"People get surprised how I learned English in one year because I really wanted to make friends even though I didn't know the language. . . If I see a girl who's new and didn't speak English, I won't be like laughing or saying, 'Oh, she doesn't speak English,' because I know that I was one kind of girl like her before," said Hanan Abdulkareem, refugee from Iraq.

GirlForward's summer academic summer program provides girls with instruction in English, math and computer skills. It also offers social support. They hope to equip the girls with the skills to graduate high school and go on to college.

For more information on GirlForward, visit: www.girlforward.org.

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