emPOWERgirls: Helping others by inspiring them

May 20, 2021

In our ’emPOWERgirls Stories’ we highlight the power women in UWC Maastricht’s community. This week you can read about Thea and Rafah. Thea is part of our Female Empowerment Network and she is meeting Rafah, a 17 year old Syrian student at UWC Maastricht.

“Pfffft! That was tough!” sighs Rafah as she enters. She just had a math exam. “It was so much, but let’s not talk about that. How nice to see Thea here!” The feeling is mutual. Thea also has a smile on her face. “I really enjoy coming to UWC Maastricht and meeting the students. There is such positive energy here.”

Thea van Gelderen is a member of the UWC Maastricht Female Empowerment Network. A group of professional women from different business sectors have joined forces and are committed to creating educational opportunities for girls from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. For many young women there, going to school is not always a given. Even when it is so important! Girls who have gone to school contribute to their country’s economy and prosperity. They also have fewer teenage pregnancies, childbirth-related deaths and are less likely to be sexually exploited. Also not insignificant: educated women pass on their knowledge to their children!

“I have always lived in a safe environment. What a luxury position we have in the Netherlands, where women have the same rights as men,” says Thea. “That should be the case everywhere. When I was a child, I used to watch Katherine Hepburn movies. What a tough cookie she was! She really strived to be treated the same as men. She inspired me to work for the rights of young women, anywhere in the world.”

It’s so great,” Rafah exclaims, “that you don’t just help others by donating money, but that you really try to inspire them!” Rafah is from Syria and has been at UWC Maastricht for just over six months. It took a while for her to feel comfortable in the Netherlands. “Still when I hear planes, I think of the military jets that flew over Syria.” It is clear to her that her country needs help. “I really want to do something to help my community. I want to use the skills I learn here in Maastricht to rebuild Syria.”

That’s exactly why Thea is at the table. Together with the other members of the Female Empowerment Network, she wants to give more girls like Rafah the opportunity to attend school here. “Having five girls from the MENA region come to UWC Maastricht every year, that’s our goal. It’s very special to meet Rafah, because then I see firsthand what we’re all doing it for. I really hope we will be able to offer more girls this opportunity again next school year.”

Would you like to contribute to helping girls like Rafah? Then let us know!
On our website you can read more about our Female Empowerment Network. Feel free to email us at advancement@uwcmaastricht.nl and we will contact you as soon as possible.

Picture by Vanessa Smit.