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An audience with the Queen: Students of the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem, New York City, recount visit with UNGEI Global Honorary Chair, Her Majesty Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan

©UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1418/Susan Markisz
Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan speaks to students about the importance of education, during a special assembly at The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem in New York City.

NEW YORK, USA, 22 September 2009 - For Celines Diaz, Diusilla Ollennu, Janet Vidal, and Kasia Reyes, Monday, 21 September was a memorable day.  The four twelfth graders were among the 100 students at the Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem (TYWLS) who attended an event at their school on the importance of girls’ education with the newly-appointed Global Honorary Chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.

During the event, H.M. Queen Rania and Ms. Veneman visited classrooms and then addressed and took questions from a 100-student assembly. They ended the visit with a visit to the library equipped with computers where H.M. Queen Rania showed the girls how their voices can be heard through the 1Goal campaign.

For the girls who attended the assembly, the morning was exciting.  “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I have never seen a queen before,” noted Diaz, as the others nodded. Reyes, who asked a question to H.M. Queen Rania, had a case of jitters before she posed her question, because she “didn’t want to mess up things before a queen.”

Diaz, Ollennu, Vidal and Reyes are students of the highly successful TYWLS, which is the flagship of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, a non-profit organization that serves to create schools and programs that enable students to reach their fullest potential.   TYWLS itself caters to 420 girls in grades 6-12, and focuses on preparing all its students for college.  For the last nine years, every graduate of the school has been accepted into university. 

True to this stellar record, the four students believe education is the key to unlock their potential.  As Vidal states, “education allows you to see the world as a whole.   You learn history, literature, science. ” For nearly all students at the school, who come largely from low-income homes, and many from immigrant families, the quality education TYWLS provides is invaluable.    

During the assembly, H.M. Queen Rania and Ms. Veneman highlighted the many challenges before the girls and women in the developing world.  Listening to their remarks put things in perspective for Ollennu, who observed, “When I think of how tough it is for girls out there in the developing world, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be here in this school.”

H.M. Queen Rania’s call to action particularly resonated with them.  “I want you, girls with voices, to speak up and shout out for girls whose cries fall silent,” she said.  “I want you to fight for them, as others are fighting for you. I want you to pull up another girl, and help her stand tall and strong. I want you to be great, and inspire greatness in others. If anyone can do it, you can.”

For these four girls who aspire to be a criminal justice lawyer, a physical therapist, and a music producer, the morning was enriching.  The “take-away” from the event, as Diaz summed up was that, “I need to inform other people what I learnt here about the other girls in the world today.   As the Queen said, politicians are not always paying attention to the problems girls in the world face.  We need to do something.”   To which Vidal added, “You have a voice for a reason.  Use it.”


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