On Friday 15th February I travelled to Seattle from London as part of my role with Girl Up. I wrote about Girl Up in a previous article in which I talked about my trip to Washington D.C. This time, however, instead of lobbying government buildings, I was in a hotel listening to different speakers for two days. My flight was at 10:35am UK time but I landed at 1:55pm Seattle time. This 9 hour and 20-minute flight left me jet lagged but I was still excited to meet the friends I have made in D.C at the hotel. We stayed at the Grand Sheraton Hotel (a four-star hotel) which is a 10-minute walk to the market and the famous yet disgusting Gum Wall.
The next day was the official start of the programming. The first speaker of the day was Alexa Bliss, a WWE wrestler. Following Girl Up’s partnership with WWE, it was no surprise that she was there. Alexa shared her story about having anorexia and being so close to death but when she was recovering, she found her confidence through body building and weight lifting. This confidence helped her to join WWE and become a wrestler. Alexa was also made history by competing first-ever Women’s match in Abu Dhabi where the crowd filled with women, men and children, chanted ‘This is hope!’. We also heard from Erin Hohlfelder, the senior program officer of the Gates Foundation, and Shelmina Abji, the former vice president of IBM and a current Girl Up Advisory Board Member. Erin discussed her role in the Gates Foundation and how she and her team have to make effective contributions to people in the developing world. She also discussed how she stood up to sexism in the workplace not only for herself but for women of colour. Shelmina led a workshop on branding and taught us that how we brand ourselves is important for the future. Her workshop aimed to build on our confidence, and she taught us to be unapologetic for who we are.
After listening to Shelmina, we split into groups and went to Pike Market but unfortunately it was raining (and when it rains in Seattle, it rains!), but this didn’t stop my group and I from going on the Ferris Wheel and visiting the famous Gum Wall, where people chew gum and stick it on a wall).
The last speaker, Akila Somasegar, spoke on Sunday. Her daughter had been part of Girl Up, and it was through her that Akila was able to pursue her passions to help people. Akila, an Indian, was asked to help a village in Sri Lanka that had been devasted because of the civil war but was scared to do so due to the tensions between Indians and Sri Lankans, but she went through with it. Akila was welcomed with open arms and during her stay she helped to build houses and a school where adults and children could learn how to use computers and laptops. Through her hard work and dedication, the then newly elected president asked to meet with her, to discuss how to help other villages that had suffered from the civil war.
After Akila’s presentation, we went to the Starbucks headquarters where we networked with some staff while drinking tea. I learnt new information about Starbucks that isn’t really known to the public, for example, the company ethically source the coffee beans and pay farmers an above average wage; also, they call they employees (people in the headquarters, retail workers, factory workers, farmers) partners to show the bond that they have. I also learnt that Starbuck aim to hire 2,500 refugees by 2022. It was really inspiring to learn that Starbuck is one of the few companies using their brand for good and not for exploitation. After networking, the group and I were given a tour of the building which was filled with quotes relating to coffee and tea, as well as displays of Latin American coffee beans and pictures of Starbuck through the years.
After three days of the program, I finally headed back to the UK for another 9 hour and 20-minute flight on Monday the 19th, leaving me completely jet lagged. I learnt a lot during this trip such as having courage and staying true to myself and my values. I also strengthened the bond I have with the other 22 Teen Advisors.