Empowering African Women through SHARE
Through SHARE, Shannon has been able to work hands on with the children, not just delivering books, school supplies and computers, but also teaching them personally, encouraging and empowering them to become better and productive members of their communities.
Shannon understands that women play a vital role in the success of a particular community. As such, she never stops promoting gender equality in the schools in many parts of Africa, a place where women are often looked down upon and discriminated. This is also why she devotes a lot of her time, money, and effort for the education and empowerment of young African women. For Shannon, literate and confident women are more likely to become more responsible members of society, thereby working hand in hand with men to build a bright future for their nation.
Shannon says this in an interview:
“One-hundred percent, I believe that educating and empowering girls in developing countries is the most important thing that needs to be fixed. Research proves time and time again the value of educating young women. When girls are educated, amazing things happen: Girls marry later, have healthier families, fewer children, more educated children, etc. The magnitude of the ripple effect that one educated girl can create is enormous.”
You may ask, why education? Why not focus on women’s rights or their protection, as a lot of women are often persecuted for being vocal in their desire to be literate? Shannon answers these questions with this simple answer: education is the foundation of everything that these women will become in society. What is the point of developing programs in protecting women if they are not confident in who they are? Education, as Shannon stresses, gives not only information, but also self-confidence that will enable women to stand up for their rights and take control of their lives themselves.
This is what Shannon often talks about whenever she gets an opportunity to share her work. She often says:
“Empowering young women in Africa is very exciting. Education can bring out confidence and encourage these girls. It is incredible to watch something like that happen. Just being able to read a book makes these girls so much more willing to share their ideas and explore new possibilities. People need to recognize that books have the amazing power to change lives.”
As stated earlier, Shannon has witnessed the wonderful effects of men and women working together in building a successful community. As such, she spends a lot of her resources to ensure that the young girls in Africa would have the ability to keep up with the boys, thus enabling them to do far more than house chores and giving birth to children. Shannon stated this in an interview:
“I think success will happen when equal amounts of boys and girls are attending school in every country. The educated girls will become leaders and will have the knowledge and tools to help lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.”
This is why Shannon is so extraordinary. A lot of people her age would simply go on with life, unaware of the plights of people such as those in Africa face (and even if they did, they would not think of doing anything about it thinking they are too young to make any difference). But Shannon is not like any ordinary teenager. She was privileged to find out about the seriousness of the issues being faced by these young girls and Africa and decided firmly to help in any way she can, in spite of the seemingly overwhelming obstacles that lie ahead her path. She often says of her work with SHARE:
“SHARE gives me a chance for me to really make a difference and change the lives of girls who are less fortunate than me—yet they have double the amount potential and determination of anyone I’ve ever seen. Being able to help these girls and see their smiles as they realize that they have a chance to improve their lives is worth more than anything I’ve ever known.”
Because of her amazing qualities, Shannon was blessed with numerous awards and recognitions, the most notable being the United Nations Youth Achievement Award, which showcases how Shannon and her SHARE team has become a powerful influence and inspiration internationally. Aside from this, Shannon has also received a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a Daily Point of Light Award, and much more. A lot of those who know Shannon are inspired by her extraordinary passion and dedication in seeing change happening in the lives of the children that are being helped by SHARE.
A Young Traveler
Shannon was born in 1994 in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. It is clear that Shannon has philanthropy running in her veins—her parents actively participated in various charitable organizations and often travelled around the world to get involved in numerous philanthropic activities. Seeing the passion that her parents are giving whenever they would join a charitable activity has inspired and encouraged Shannon to follow in the footsteps of her parents. In fact, throughout Shannon’s childhood and early teenage years, Shannon has had the opportunity of travelling with her parents in countries, such as Peru, Costa Rica, and India, volunteering with them to provide help and assistance to the families in need.
Even as a young child, Shannon already began to exhibit traits of leadership and public service through joining simple local charitable activities. At age five, Shannon joined Girl Scouts and has since become actively involved in many of the group’s programs and events. Through her time with the girl scouts, Shannon was not only able to develop her skills and abilities, but also her love and passion for serving others. Constantly being encouraged by her parents to always be the best that she can be, Shannon eventually became a National Girl Scouts Consultant, working with the National Board of Directors and Staff at Girl Scouts, USA.
Shannon studied at Ridge High School, where she often received praise from her teachers for her amazing intelligence and passion for helping others. Since her elementary years, Shannon has always loved to participate in extracurricular activities that involved doing charitable work for the members of their community. Shannon would learn a lot about the importance of education in school, especially when she learned of the young girls in Africa that did not have the privileges she enjoyed.
Getting Interested in Africa
As she matured in age and wisdom, Shannon also developed an interest in the continent of Africa after hearing from her parents about the plight of the people who lived there—poverty, disease, and the lack of education. As she pondered about these things, Shannon realized how fortunate she was to have grown up in a country like the United States of America where people did not have to worry about the basic necessities of life, and women had an equal opportunity of succeeding along with men. In an interview made with her years later, Shannon said:
“As I was growing up, my parents kept reminding me that I had won the 'birth lottery' in life, because I could have just as easily been a girl born in Africa where I'd have to spend all day fetching water and firewood, and caring for my siblings. I was lucky to be born in this country, where I could go to school and eventually use my voice and potential to help other people.”
Founding Shannon’s After School Reading Exchange (SHARE)
This realization inspired and empowered Shannon to not just look on and do nothing, but to use whatever things she had and share them with people who were not as fortunate. A trip with her family in Africa in 2008 further developed this desire, after Shannon spent some time with the kids that they were helping. She said in an interview:
“I felt like just playing kickball with some kids in an orphanage wasn't really helping us make the impact as my family and I had the potential to make... After going down to Africa and actually seeing the children we were helping and seeing the houses they live in, it was just something you couldn't forget, so that was why we kept on coming back.”
Shannon returned to the United States fully convinced of what she wanted to do. And so, with the support of her parents, Shannon launched SHARE (Shannon’s After School Reading Exchange) at age 15 in order to be able to do something more than visiting the children. Of course, Shannon did face some apprehensions initially. Like with anyone starting a non-profit organization, Shannon was faced with thoughts of whether or not people would respond positively to her cause. What made it more difficult was the fact that she was only 15 years old, and had some fears on whether or not people were going to take her seriously.
In spite of all these seemingly huge obstacles, Shannon pressed on, backed up by the support of her parents and her undying determination to do something good for the young girls in Africa. And so, she pursued her goals, something that up to today still surprise her—not only did the people support SHARE, but some had even pledged to work as volunteers for the organization.
From there, SHARE grew to become one of the most prominent charitable foundations in the area of education, especially in the country of Tanzania, where Shannon first witnessed the plight of the young African women. From 2008, Shannon started travelling to and from Tanzania, personally delivering books to newly established school libraries and creating reading programs for the children. Shannon and her SHARE team are supported by the thousands of people that have been inspired by Shannon’s presentations and have pledged support to the organization.
SHARE Continues to Transform Lives through Education
In a recent interview, Shannon described the usual work she did with SHARE:
“I have traveled to Tanzania for the past 5 summers to create reading programs for girls, build libraries in schools, provide schools with electricity, and give deserving girls scholarships to secondary school. In the USA we have SHARE chapters at universities. These chapters raise awareness and funds for SHARE’s programs in Africa. I’m very focused on spreading awareness for girls’ education here in the states. I delivered over 50 presentations to over 100,000 people in both the United States and Tanzania, emphasizing the critical importance of educating and empowering girls.”
The support of people in America helped Shannon realize that everyone has an innate desire of doing something good for their community. Most often, people cannot express this desire because they do not know where to start. Shannon built on this foundation and utilized her leadership abilities to guide people in manifesting that desire, yielding amazing results.
Aside from the overwhelming support that Shannon has received, she was also inspired with how the young African girls have responded to SHARE. When Shannon first launched SHARE, there were small thoughts of how the children would negatively respond. But this did not discourage Shannon, and she pursued the project—a decision that she would never regret for the rest of her life.
When SHARE was established in Tanzania, Shannon was overwhelmed by the eagerness of the young girls to be educated, so much so that they were willing to do anything to learn. Shannon said:
“I say that educating girls is not as difficult as one might imagine because with my experiences in Tanzania, the girls I meet are so fiercely determined to become educated, that simply supplying them with resources, giving them attention and allowing them to feel valued, and providing opportunities is all we do—the girls do the rest! They ‘share’ what they’ve learned with their friends and their families. And before you know it, they’re creating this ripple effect of knowledge that passes from themselves, to their families, and eventually to their children. It’s amazing to see, and it’s great that it works.”
As the years passed, SHARE became so successful that it started to become well-known to the international community. And with that exposure, Shannon began to receive a myriad of accolades and recognitions for her amazing efforts in promoting and bringing education to the young girls in Africa.
Since 2009, Shannon has been receiving awards for her work, including the United Nations Youth Achievement Award and the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Aside from the awards she received, Shannon, through her foundation SHARE, has also been recognized by famous publications, such as Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Teen Vogue. She has even caught the attention of well-known people like the First Lady Michelle Obama, who has personally met with Shannon to congratulate her for her and her team’s achievements.
In 2011, Shannon graduated from Ridge High School with excellent marks, and applied at Rice University in Houston, Texas, to study Sociology. She is currently a junior in the university, and is looking to complete her studies and earn her degree by 2015.
With all the accomplishments that Shannon and her SHARE team have achieved, she acknowledges that there is still much to be done. What she is hoping for, however, is this: that the young girls that were helped by SHARE would grow up to be productive and beneficial members of their society, sharing what they have learned to the next generation in order to continue the work. When Shannon was asked in an interview what her long term goals were with SHARE, she answered:
“In about ten years, it will be sustainable. Hopefully the girls that graduate this year will become teachers in their village, and they’ll be able to teach the next generation so that we can start a kind of cycle that way. That would be really cool.”
Shannon is a remarkable role model who can inspire and encourage a lot of us who want to contribute something productive and significant to our world. Her undying passion and courage in promoting education and empowering the young women of Africa is a powerful reminder of what it means to live a life of service and charity. Shannon does not expect material things in return for her work—seeing the wonderful smiles of the children whose lives she changed is enough to encourage her to keep doing what does.
“Find something you're passionate about and just go for it, even if it feels like you can't make that big of a difference ... There's a Mother Teresa quote that really inspires me: ‘If you can't feed a hundred hungry children, feed one.’ So, maybe you won't be able to solve the problem of poverty, world hunger or gender inequality that you want in a short amount of time, but if you start making a difference now, there's no telling what the future holds for you.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- SHARE in Africa
- Half the Sky Movement
- The Girl Effect
- We Are Family Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 2009: Named as a National Young Woman of Distinction
- 2010: Received the United Nations Youth Achievement Recognition Award
- 2010: Received the Prudential Spirit of Community Award
- 2010: Received the Governor’s Jefferson Award
- 2010: Won the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes
- 2011: Received the Build-a-Bear Huggable Hero Award
- 2011: Named a Hasbro Community Action Hero
- 2011: Received the Russ Berrie Award for Making a Difference
- 2011: Won the Princeton Prize in Race Relations
- 2011: Named as an Everyday Young Hero by Youth Service America
- Received the Daily Point of Light Award