What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question most of us have heard and had the chance to consider. But in many other parts of the world, girls are faced with the most challenging circumstances, and “reach womanhood without ever being asked about their dreams and ambitions,” making it difficult for them to recognize their own value and potential. Determined to change this, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) developed Vision Not Victim, a program that gives these girls an opportunity to imagine new possibilities and see their future selves.
Reality for countless adolescent girls all over the world is harsh, to put it mildly. As the IRC details it, girls are expected to work day and night to support their families, instead of going to school and pursuing their interests. They face unthinkable threats like child marriage, violence, and exploitation. They experience harassment and abuse when they step outside, and are often isolated inside their own homes. They have little or no access to education, and are stifled by cultural stereotypes. On top of all that, many are forced to flee their homelands due to war and persecution, leading them to fall even farther behind, as they struggle to find their way in a new country.
“I’ve always wanted to be an architect. Yet, when I was young, people told me that this was not something a woman could achieve. Now that I’ve achieved my vision, I hope I am a model for other girls.” – Fatima (age 11)
Take Syria, for example. Over 3 million people have fled the country as a result of the bloody civil war that has been raging for years. Among the displaced, who are now living Jordan, 4 out of 5 are women or children. It’s a desperate situation, where daily survival trumps dreams of a better future, and hope is hard to come by, especially for the Syrian refugee girls, “as they have been particularly affected by the crisis.”
But, like a beacon of much needed light, this is where Vision Not Victim comes in. It’s a growing, worldwide initiative the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit provider of lifesaving care and life-changing assistance in over 40 countries and 22 U.S. cities, developed to engage young, resettled refugee girls, reduce their exposure to harm, and give them the skills and support they need to build a better future for themselves.
In Jordan, one of the pilot locations of the groundbreaking program (Congo is the other), Syrian refugee girls are paired with mentors from their community. Each girl is guided to expand her idea of what is possible, create a vision for herself, and develop a strategic plan for achieving it. She then designs and directs a photo shoot, posing as her future self, having achieved her goal.
Fatima (age 11) is handed the photo of her future self as a policewoman.
The girls leave with inspiring portraits of their future selves to share with their families, friends and communities. They are meant to be a visualization tool the girls can use to keep their own dreams alive, and to inspire other girls to consider their own potential. The powerful photos are also intended to urge others to challenge stereotypes and develop actions to protect and support their girls.
What an extraordinary program for these extraordinary girls, who, despite the massive trauma they’ve experienced, manage to summon the will, patience, and determination to achieve the dreams they can now see for themselves.