Eye: What was it like for you growing up in Pakistan?
Gulalai: I was fortunate to have a father who was determined to educate his daughters. He was a teacher and a human rights activist. He brought us storybooks that were about equality and newsletters that had research about the human rights situation. I was able to meet women who were very strong, inspirational and who were building the human rights movement in Pakistan… I started writing poetry and making drawings on the issue of discrimination against girls. My family was happy that I was speaking up…
Eye:When did you start to become involved in issues involving girls?
Gulalai: My father mentored me and linked me to opportunities for strengthening my leadership skills and knowledge. I became part of Child Rights Advocate Forum, which was an opportunity for me to reach out to other girls. I soon realized that many girls have internalized the discriminatory norms and values and find little space to raise their voices. It gave me the motivation to create a platform for young women and girls so they can raise their voices for their rights.
Maggie: I saw the future and worked backwards. I wanted to create it. I called my parents to get my $5,000 from my babysitting money to buy land and build a home. I wanted these kids to have a safe home, health care and education.
Eye:You deferred going to college to find your “inner self.” What have you found?
Maggie:Before I was 18, I thought I had to follow the same old beaten track that everyone else was going down. Until I stepped out of that bubble of fear that I have to be this or I have to be that way, I didn’t realize that the world opens up to you. I was 18 when I put the wheels in motion. and 19 when I was in Nepal. I was definitely a young person. The mindset is that you can do anything, that nothing stands in your way.
Doniece: We moved from New York to San Francisco in 2002. With my adopted three-month-old daughter, I would stroll the neighborhood and got to know many people. After the downturn, our neighborhood became trendy; gentrification set in. Too many of our neighbors moved from their homes, to their cars, to the streets. It’s been heartbreaking. We felt powerless to help, and I wanted to figure out some way to make a difference. One day I was walking in another neighborhood and I passed a young woman sitting on the sidewalk. She was crying, filthy and muttering to herself that she would never be clean.
Eye: Was she the reason you decided to take action?
Doniece: Yes! I knew she meant a lot of things by those words that I would never understand. I wondered what her chances were of getting physically clean. That evening I did some research. There are more than 7,000 homeless in the city!