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Sewickley Academy students strive to lift, protect girls

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 10:33 a.m.
Shadley Gordon (left) and Elsa Gordon, 11, (center) look on as Girl Up co-president and co-founder Margaret Weber, 17, paints an Afghanistan henna design on Ellie Hughes, 10, all of Sewickley during a fundraiser and fair at Sewickley Academy.
Randy Jarosz
Shadley Gordon (left) and Elsa Gordon, 11, (center) look on as Girl Up co-president and co-founder Margaret Weber, 17, paints an Afghanistan henna design on Ellie Hughes, 10, all of Sewickley during a fundraiser and fair at Sewickley Academy.
Sewickley Academy seniors Margaret Weber (left) and Teddy Oh, 17, both of Sewickley formed Girl Up.
Randy Jarosz
Sewickley Academy seniors Margaret Weber (left) and Teddy Oh, 17, both of Sewickley formed Girl Up.

Two Sewickley Academy girls are rising to the occasion when it comes to lifting girls up.

Sophomore Teddy Oh, 17, of Sewickley and senior Margaret Weber, 17 of Sewickley Heights began a Girl Up club at the start of the school year, with the help of adviser and history teacher Jessica Peluso. They have recruited 30 members.

Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, has more than 150 chapters nationally and internationally, with six in Pennsylvania. Its vision, according to, is to “create a world where all girls, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.”

Oh said the campaign is named Girl Up because when girls are given more opportunities, such as education, it can lift up those around them and benefit their countries.

She said that last summer, she learned more about the campaign when she attended a Girl Up conference in Washington, D.C., where she had the opportunity to lobby on Capitol Hill to ask for support for the Girls Count Act of 2013, a statement that the United States proactively will support every child's right to receive legal and social benefits through registration at birth.

“With no birth certificates or any form of identification, girls can't drive, they can't have a job and they can't run for office or have an opportunity to become a future leader,” Oh said.

Weber's summer included a trip to Doha, Qatar, with Sewickley Academy teachers and other students to attend the iEARN Conference and Youth Summit, where she spoke about education issues related to girls. She focused on the United Nations' eight millennium human rights goals set in 2002, with the aim of achieving them in 2015.

“Having access to primary education for all children is the only goal we aren't on track to meet,” she said.

To raise awareness at the academy, the club hosted activities on International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11. Weber said they celebrated advances already made for girls' rights by offering food and drinks and candy bracelets, and at the same time recognized “how much farther we have to go.”

They wrote letters to congressional representatives asking them to support the Girls Count Act and did a project to highlight the child-marriage rate in Malawi — where approximately one in two girls are is married as a teen — by giving out stickers featuring the statistic.

“We asked half of the girls in the senior school to wear them to visually represent that if they lived in Malawi, there's a high chance they'd be married by now and even have kids,” Oh said.

They let students know about a free Apple/Android app called Charity Miles, through which the user can raise money for Girl Up or another charity. Charity Miles, which keeps track of how many miles the user runs, walks or bikes, is funded by various corporate partners. Weber said every mile translates to one free week of school for a girl.

Last week, the club hosted a fair and fundraiser reception after the film “Girl Rising,” part of the academy's Silk Screen film series. The film was developed by the Girl Rising global action campaign, which raises money to fund programs, such as Girl Up, which help girls get in and stay in school.

The film focused on the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to transform societies.

Club members set up nine stations representing each of the nine girls and their countries featured in the film. At each station, informational posters, food, music, art, a craft activity or other cultural elements were featured. A donation bucket was displayed.

The money the academy paid to show the film will go to the Girl Rising campaign. The money earned by the club will go directly to Girl Up.

Girl Up helps fund United Nations programs that provide girls with an education, opportunities to see a doctor, access to clean water in their communities and the means to stay safe from violence, according to For information, visit

Because of their work through Girl Up, Oh and Weber said they think they have become more internationally minded.

Weber said she would like her career to combine her love for international relations and promoting humans rights.

“Girl Up has opened my eyes to so many of my sisters around the world with no voice.” Oh said.

“I hope that, whatever I do in the future, I'll be using my position to give voices to people who want to be heard. I will keep supporting and trying to effect change so that all girls can get an education and empower themselves.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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