red bangle award
[From left to right: Kayce Freed Jennings, Co-Founder and Executive Vice-President of The Documentary Group and Senior Producer of Girl Rising, Zoë Timms, Founder and Director of Women’s Education Project and Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay Consul General of India in New York/Photo Credit: Parash Chetrii]

Women’s Education Project (WEP) presented their first ever Red Bangle Award to Co-Founder and Executive Vice-President of The Documentary Group and Senior Producer of Girl Rising,  Kayce Freed Jennings, on March 16 at the Consulate General of India, New York.

WEP Executive Director Zoe Timms explained the symbolism the organization saw in a Red Bangle, which was representative of everything they hoped to promote through WEP’s initiatives.

“Bangles are metamorphosing as a symbol of weakness and vulnerability,” Timms said. “We wanted to make it a symbol of femininity and strength. And also red is the color of our education project.”

The film from Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins is based on the lives of nine girls, each from a different developing country, who overcame nearly insurmountable odds to obtain an education.

Jennings accepted the award on behalf of the young girls, who were also presented with Red Bangles, and are now the faces of the global campaign for girl’s education.

“Sokha from Cambodia, Wadley from Haiti, Suma from Nepal, Yasmin from Egypt, Asmera from Ethiopia, Ruksana from India, Senna from Peru, Mariama from Sierra Leone and Amina from Afghanistan— these nine girls are the faces of Girl Rising,” Jennings said. ”They are also faces of change. I am proud to be here representing them. The circumstances these girls come from were tough, and the barriers they face are truly daunting, but their spirits are indomitable. They are strong, courageous and determined, and if given an opportunity, they can change our world.”

The award ceremony at the Consulate was followed by a discussion with Jennings and Timms, which was moderated by WNYC producer Mythili Rao of the South Asian American Journalists Association (SAJA).

red bangle award
[Left to right: Mythili Rao, WNYC producer and South Asian Journalists Association Board Member, Zoe Timms and Kayce Freed Jennings/Photo Credit: Parash Chetrii]

The discussion highlighted the challenges faced by the WEP in South India, the documentary “Girl Rising” and also the recently launched Girl Rising: ENGAGE INDIA campaign.

As part of the Girl Rising: ENGAGE INDIA campaign, the film “Girl Rising India” will harness talents of nine Bollywood stars in a Hindi version of the original film.

The campaign, aimed at changing the lives of girls across the country through powerful storytelling and visible advocacy, is designed to spark grassroots, community-led change for young girls in need.

When asked about the ongoing debate of Western media’s treatment of India’s rape culture and the projection of other issues related to women in the developing world, Jennings emphasized the importance of creating room in the conversation for individual countries to better represent their stories.

“That’s the reason why we worked with writers and narrators from each of the girl’s countries for the film,” Jennings said. “Also, our Girl Rising India campaign will be locally led. We want the organizations in the villages to decide how they want to adopt the campaign and ways they want to tell their stories. We are not going to pretend to do this because that would be wrong—that would be a Western perspective, and we have no place in doing that.”

She added: “The only thing we know is when you educate girls, great things happens. We know and understand the barriers. The reasons are complex and probably different to each place, and certainly the solutions are unique, too. But we sure don’t believe we understand all these cultures from the outside.”

Below are some of the unforgettable stories featured in the 2013 documentary “Girl Rising.”

Ruksana is a dreamer, she escapes into the colorful world of her imagination and art— a world of flowers, birds and bright blue skies. It is a stark contrast from her real world, which is the pavements of Kolkata, where she lives. Ruksana’s parents, daily wage laborers, are committed to their children, and despite their hardships they moved to the city so their daughters can receive an education. She is now going to school and learns dance and karate. Her goal is to teach art someday. She draws strength from her father’s resolve.

Sokha was a Cambodian child of the dump, orphaned and forced to pick through garbage to survive. But after she was rescued, Sokha found her way to school, and like a phoenix she rose to become a star student on the brink of a brilliant and once unimaginable future.

A catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti in 2010 and destroyed Wadley’s home and school, but it did not break her irrepressible spirit, nor did it extinguish her thirst to learn, even as she was turned away from the makeshift school day after day. She said, “I will come back every day until I can stay.” Now Wadley is back in school and learning her favorite subject, science!