Silver Chips Online

School Girls Unite to hold Saturday concert in Silver Spring

Benefit show will feature Blazer musicians

By Sophia Deng, Online Managing Editor
December 19, 2008
School Girls Unite, a non-profit organization which provides educational opportunities for schoolgirls in Mali, will hold a free winter benefit concert on Saturday, Dec. 20 in Downtown Silver Spring from 4 - 5:30 p.m. The concert will feature Blair musicians, including seniors Jon Kesten and Tori Heller, the Blair Chamber Choir, InToneNation and air-band Action Jackson and the Go-Getters.
Members of School Girls Unite pose in front of the Capital building during Global Campaign for Education Action Week. <i>Photo courtesy of Youth Activism Project.</i>
Members of School Girls Unite pose in front of the Capital building during Global Campaign for Education Action Week. Photo courtesy of Youth Activism Project.

School Girls Unite is a Maryland-based youth project that collaborates with its Malian sister organization, Les Filles Unies pour l'Education, to obtain educational opportunities and scholarships for schoolgirls in Mali, according to School Girls Unite Coordinator Wendy Lesko. Twenty Montgomery County girls organized and founded the organization, including Blair seniors Anika Manzoor and Debattama Sen.

School Girls Unite previously sponsored a similar concert in Downtown Silver Spring and raised $5000 for charity in September, according to Lesko. The Sept. 5 concert attracted around 2000 people. "I hope we meet, if not surpass, our previous turnout," Sen said.

At the concert, School Girls Unite will collect donations and sell authentic Malian jewelry and handmade bags made by its members. Half of the proceeds will go towards the Malian schoolgirls' scholarships, while the other half will fund School Girls Unite advocacy activities and civic participation projects.

The theme of Saturday's concert is to "give the gift of education," according to promotional material. "We want to raise awareness and reach out to teens in the area," Sen said.

Although Lesko is concerned about potential weather interferences during the Saturday's winter benefit concert, she has high expectations. "Anything that a young person plans is a success," Lesko said. "We will have great music and a great crowd."

Future plans for events are still in the works, although School Girls Unite will continue to increase attention for Malian conditions through fundraisers and community events, according to Lesko. "If we can develop a plan and model for growth, one that is inexpensive and high-impact, we can expand big-time," she says.

In 2002, Lesko, who has written numerous books about youth activism, brought the concept of School Girls Unite to Newport Middle School, and the idea immediately garnered the support of a group of Montgomery County middle school girls. "I talked to them about transforming the world, and they jumped at the issue," Lesko said. With the help of two Malian friends, Lesko was able to extend her efforts overseas to Africa through Les Filles Unies pour l'Education.

School Girls Unite and Les Filles Unies pour l'Education have central branches in the D.C. region and in Bamako, Mali. After winning the Innovations in Civic Participation Global Youth Volunteering Award in 2007, School Girls Unite, which now has 70 members, including its first male member, Jon Kesten, has quickly increased its base beyond the original participating Montgomery County middle and high schools. "There are members from Howard County and two individual girls from Alexandria, Va. who work with us," Lesko said

To increase awareness for Malian educational opportunities and other societal concerns, such as child marriage, the members of School Girls Unite have lobbied for congressional support by holding protests and producing a video petition. In 2008, School Girls Unite was able to persuade three congressmen to cosponsor the "Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act." In addition to national aims, the organization also plans to gain local support through community benefit projects like these concerts, Lesko said.