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TedxTeen: Changes in Culture (Part 1 of 3)

April 03, 2013

A few weeks ago, the Business Matters team had the incredible opportunity to meet the speakers of this year’s TedxTeen conference, which was held in New York City. Twelve outstanding youth shared their inspiring stories of hardships, ingenuity, and ultimately, success. This week is the first part of our three week series on the TedxTeen speakers.

First up are three individuals who have inspired change in the ideas and beliefs of their cultures. Maria Toorpakai Wazir is a girl who just wanted to be a tomboy in an environment where she wasn’t even allowed to be educated. After pretending to be a boy to play sports, she courageously fled her home in Pakistan to Canada where she has become an excellent squash player. Maria’s story shows the importance of challenging traditional gender roles and educating women. Next, we spoke with Sophie Umazi, a young woman from Kenya. After the violence of the 2007 Kenyan election, Sophie was almost killed just because of the color of her skin. She escaped and started a music school that teaches music history from all the ethnic groups of Kenya to children whose parents were killed after the election crisis. In 2012, she started the I Am Kenyan Project, which asks people from around the world to unite and share pictures on Facebook. Our last guest is Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. His foundation, Africa Rising, is committed to empowering the youth of Africa to change the stereotypical perceptions both within and outside of the continent. After listening to this week’s program, we hope you feel inspired to make small changes within yourself, to impact the world around you.

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Maria Toorpakai Wazir

As a young child growing up in South Waziristan, along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Maria wanted to be like her brothers more than anything else. At the age of four, she cut her hair, donned her brother’s clothes, and burned her girly ones in the backyard. Her father, an inspiring figure in Maria’s life, quickly nicknamed her Genghis Khan after the great Mongolian warrior. Under this guise, Maria studied and won men’s weight-lifting championships, where she was able to channel her tomboy personality into sports. Eventually, her aggression mounted and her father thought it better for her to release it on the court, with a racket, rather than on other people. Maria had found her calling – squash. Maria was eventually found out as a girl and after her family was threatened for its radical gender roles, she fled to North America where she found guidance under squash star Jonathon Power. Since then, Maria has developed her skills as an exceptional squash player in Toronto, Canada. In our interview with Maria, she spoke of her experiences of the freedom and unlimited possibilities girls in North America have. She is amazed at the volume and autonomy that her teammates show in such simple occasions as riding the bus to practice. Maria is amazed at the support and love that she has received since fleeing her home in Pakistan and it is her hope to bring tolerance and patience to people around the world, stating “it’s not about religion, it’s about being human, and it’s about humanity.”

For more information about Maria, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @mariatoorpakai.

To watch Maria’s full TedxTeen speech on Youtube, click here.

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Sophie Umazi

Sophie Umazi is Kenyan, and she’s very proud to admit it! In 2007, the Kenyan election provided the catalyst for ethnic group rivalries to clash. People were raping and killing others simply because of their physical appearance and tribal association. When Sophie was only 13, she was stopped by three men who wanted to kill her because they identified her as an enemy tribe member. Sophie was enraged, why should they target her just because her skin was lighter than theirs? She can trace her family history into at least five tribes; she is the epitome of Kenyan! Luckily, Sophie was able to negotiate for her life and escaped. After that experience, Sophie founded a music school in 2009 within an orphanage for children whose parents were killed in the post-election violence. There, they learned music traditions of each tribe, and soon they began to understand and appreciate the value of each other’s history. In 2012, with threats of violence and a full-blown civil war in the works, Sophie mounted a Facebook campaign. She asked individuals from all over the world to take pictures of themselves with the phrase “I AM KENYAN.” The page quickly went viral, embracing the issue that if we are all citizens of the world, and if one part of the world is suffering then the whole world is.

For more information about the 2007 Kenyan election click here or here. See how things have changed since 2007 with a look at the 2013 Kenyan election.

Like the I Am Kenyan Project on Facebook and follow Sophie on Twitter @_umazi.

Watch Sophie’s full TedxTeen speech on Youtube.

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Ndaba Mandela

Yup, you read right. Ndaba is grandson of the famous South African activist and former President Nelson Mandela. Growing up as Nelson Mandela’s grandson came with both gifts and burdens for Ndaba. While his last name has opened many doors for him, people’s expectations of his greatness have weighed heavy on his shoulders. After traveling all over the world, Ndaba realized he was often asked the same question when people found out where he was from, “how big are the lions?” He chuckled and responded that he was not a zookeeper, so he did not know. This question continued to strike him as he experienced the growing ignorance of African culture. Ndaba created the Africa Rising Foundation which empowers the youth of Africa to educate visitors in their own land and on their own travels too. By working from within, the Africa Rising Foundation is breaking down the negative mindset that outsiders have of stereotypical starving children and war, to realize the great diversity of beautiful people and landscapes that the continent of Africa has to offer.

To learn more about the Africa Rising Foundation and its many programs, click here. For more information about Ndaba, check out his TedxTeen profile.

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All of our interviews would not have been possible without the incredible work of the We Are Family Foundation. We thank them for their generosity and giving us hope for a brighter future.