Cascades Academy Students Attend WOMEN IN THE WORLD Summit

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This past March, Bend’s Amanda Steurmer, founder of the non-profit, World Muse (formerly Shine Global), organized the first women’s conference in Bend, bringing inspirational local and international speakers to the Tower’s stage. World Muse’s mission is to support and inspire women and girls to realize their full potential as catalysts for change.

After attending last year’s Women in the World Summit in New York, Steurmer wanted to find a way to share the experience with some of the teens World Muse works with throughout the year. She partnered with Jenny Green, a parent and board member at Bend’s Cascades Academy to take a group of nine young women to this year’s summit in New York. They both wanted to give the girls an opportunity to learn about women’s issues across the globe and to be inspired by women and teens who are working to create innovative solutions to these issues.

According to Steurmer Cascades Academy values critical and independent thinking and experiential learning. Special trips such as this unforgettable blockbuster women’s summit foster growth, innovation, empowerment and personal responsibility. A last-minute community fund-raising effort plus the hospitality of New York friends, made this chance-of-a-lifetime trip a reality for the young women. A staggering line-up of women leaders, activists, social pioneers and humanitarians from the U.S., India, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and Somalia came together to share their stories.

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton opened the summit, addressing the thousands in attendance at the packed Lincoln Center. The Cascades Academy girls were inspired by the possibility of a women president as Clinton empowered them to learn, think and act in defense of human rights.

The star-studded stage included Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and Bend’s new, beloved muse, the human rights activist, Dr. Tererai Trent (keynote speaker at the Muse Women’s Conference in Bend, March 2013). Also in attendance, the South African political challenger Mamphela Ramphele, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, Nigerian Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the ‘fearless Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman who has incurred death threats for speaking out for the rights of Christian women in her country.’

Some of the stories were painful to listen to: issues of sexual molestation, human trafficking, prostitution and forced labor. But the girls were glad they had to look at these issues and unanimously said they feel the knowledge educates and empowers them. The students were struck by the comment that these women felt they were- ‘not victims, but survivors.’

They were moved by one African chief’s commitment to protect women, his vow to never let another woman in his village die in childbirth. Understanding that in many developing nations where only the men have power, their influence can improve women’s lives. Another student was particularly affected by the story of Argentinean mother, Susana Trimarco, who in the 10-year search for her abducted daughter immersed herself in confronting corruption, coercion and organized crime. Through her Maria de los Angeles Foundation, human trafficking is now gaining public and government attention in Argentina and victims are being encouraged to report the crime.

The overwhelming hit at the summit was the performance by the Burmese Me N Ma Girls, Myanmar’s first all- girl pop group. The Cascades Academy girls were impressed by their bold perseverance in the fight for freedom of speech in their country as well as their college educations.

Among the many insightful comments, the Academy girls agreed that:

“Anybody can change the world.”

“You don’t have to be famous or anything special to make a difference.”

“Even if you don’t have a lot (money), you can still do really cool things.”

“So many amazing people are out there trying to help the world and empower other people.”

“People should become educated, take responsibility and help.”

“Regular, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

The girls were grateful to be in New York with their best friends to share the experience, and to return to Central Oregon “feeling really changed.”

Cascades Academy is partnering with the World Muse and Tererai Trent’s Tinogona Foundation to develop a curriculum based on the story of Tererai Trent’s fight for education in the face of oppression and poverty, inspiring young women to believe in their dreams. Stuermer and Green both agree, “These young women are the next generation of changemakers. They will vote in the next election. They are our future so we want to inspire them to dream big.”

Cascades Academy: www.cascades academy.org, 541-382-0699. Amanda Steurmer and World Muse: www.the worldmuse.org. Women in the World Summit, 2013: www.the dailybeast.com.

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