The Globe's B.C. bureau is profiling 10 young people under 20 who are doing great things in fields ranging from arts to science to activism. Today, Alaina Podmorrow works to help girls in Afghanistan.
Alaina Podmorow loved school. So when she heard many girls in Afghanistan couldn't go, either due to a lack of resources or the threat of violence, she decided she had to help.
Ms. Podmorow, from the British Columbia Okanagan community of Lake Country, launched Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan, a non-profit aimed at providing educational funds and supports for Afghan girls.
She was nine years old.
"Being a kid, there's a lot of naiveté toward the world. Once you get older, you sometimes underestimate your abilities or you wonder if you can actually make a change, if you can actually make a difference. Being nine, I didn't have any of those thoughts," Ms. Podmorow, now 18, recalled in an interview.
"I thought if I could do anything, even if I could raise $10, $20, it would still be making a difference."
Nearly a decade after it was founded, Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan has raised more than $500,000. Ms. Podmorow has received several accolades and has even spoken at the United Nations.
Ms. Podmorow remembers well the moment the group was born. She was attending a speech by journalist and human-rights activist Sally Armstrong. Ms. Armstrong discussed, among other things, the hardships faced by girls in Afghanistan.
"They couldn't go to school, which was the most shocking thing for me among many other horrible human-rights violations," Ms. Podmorow said. "Knowing how much I loved going to school, how much I appreciated being able to learn something new every day, it just really hit home for me that these girls didn't necessarily get that same opportunity."
The group's first event was a silent auction, which coincided with a Rotary Club potluck. Ms. Podmorow had hoped to raise enough money to hire one teacher in Afghanistan for one year. They were able to hire four.
Ms. Podmorow said chapters of the group – or "Littles," as they're called – have sprung up in other parts of Canada and the United States. She said one team is just starting up in Switzerland. Ms. Podmorow's group is the youth affiliate for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.
Ms. Podmorow's lone trip to Afghanistan was in 2012. She travelled in a small group that included her mother.
Part of what she saw was heartbreaking. She said the educational resources that were available to boys in Afghanistan were not always available to girls.
For instance, she said she would see boys' classrooms that had new desks, new chairs and abundant writing supplies. In some girls' classrooms, she said, the chairs wouldn't have seats and desks would be broken.
Ms. Podmorow said she also met girls who told her they had been subjected to extreme violence. One was allegedly forced into an arranged marriage and horrifically beaten.
"These girls, regardless of what had happened to them, these hateful things that had been inflicted upon them, these girls still wanted to become educated, they still wanted to go to school and they wanted to make a difference," she said.
Also in 2012, the federal government announced Ms. Podmorow would serve as honorary youth ambassador at the inaugural International Day of the Girl. As a result, she was able to give a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Ms. Podmorow said she was able to meet girls from around the world and learn about the challenges they face.
Ms. Podmorow is now a student at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus. She said she wants to major in political science.
She doesn't plan to give up her advocacy work any time soon.