Last year, member Sophie Sharp created her own fun run and raised $20,000 for Gashora Girls Academy and the Rwanda Girls Initiative, an organization dedicated to the education of young women. Now, at age 15, she is even more enthusiastic about the event and invites all local runners to support her cause. We talked with Sophie about how she became an education and rights activist.
Reflections magazine: When and how did you get into running as a sport?
Sophie Sharp: I first got into running with my dad at a really young age. I have always loved it. When I am running, I feel free and at peace. My parents are both runners, so it was in my blood. I began running 8K races at a young age, starting with the Beat the Bridge run in Seattle, and I have continued with this passion through middle school and into high school.
RM: How did you hear about the Rwanda Girls Initiative?
SS: Rwanda Girls Initiative (RGI) was started by two mothers at my school—Suzanne Sinegal McGill and Shalisan Foster. I first heard about it in third grade through a presentation they did at St. Thomas School. But at that time, I didn’t realize what a big part of my life RGI would become. I attended the annual auctions with my parents, so we always had a connection. But it wasn’t until my mum and I visited Rwanda and Gashora Girls Academy that I really got involved and found out how passionate I was about girls’ education and women’s rights. I have always been an activist, but this trip helped bring it to light and focus my passion.
RM: Can you describe one of the most impactful moments you had while visiting Rwanda?
SS: When I was visiting, my goal was to wave to every person I saw, and to my pleasure, every time they waved back! One day we were driving to our hotel and there was a man with a machine gun standing outside since the president was due to visit. He was very serious and kind of scary looking, and my mum told me not to wave at him. But I did anyway. As soon as I waved, his expression changed, and he lowered his gun and waved and smiled a huge grin. All of a sudden, he was not scary at all. This showed me how happy people are in Rwanda.
RM: Why did you decide to give your energy to this cause?
SS: As soon as I visited Rwanda, my whole world changed. When I got home, I looked at all my shoes. I had so many, most of which I hardly wore, when these kids were walking around barefoot, or with only half a flip-flop or Croc. I decided then and there I had to do something. I didn’t know what that would be, but I knew I had to make a difference.
RM: Where did the idea to create a 5K come from?
SS: My two passions are running and girls’ education, so I decided I would combine them to make something amazing for an impact. I also love our community and knew that putting on a community event would be a great way to bring us all together in a fun way, as well as bring awareness to this great organization.
RM: What are your future plans with RGI?
SS: I plan to do this fun run every year, and I want to grow the event to be bigger and better. I want to continue to raise awareness of RGI and the benefits of educating girls. My goal is for everyone to know of RGI and to want to help!
RM: Do you have any advice for your peers about how to make a difference, whether that’s local or abroad?
SS: You can do whatever you set your mind to. It might seem impossible at times, but it isn’t. There is always something you can do. It doesn’t have to be a fun run; just spreading the word can make a difference. You don’t have to do something big to make a difference and affect a community. Raising awareness is a key part to changing the world one person at a time.
RM: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from creating the event?
SS: I learned from this event that I can make a difference. I am not too small to change the world. I have also learned a lot about leadership, speaking in front of large groups, and all the work that goes into planning these events. It doesn’t all happen with the snap of your fingers.
RM: Is there anything else you want people to know about RGI or your 5K event?
SS: If you ran it last year, we’ve updated the course to make it mostly flat, so it’s a great, fast run. Also, your support can help empower a girl to receive a higher education, thereby changing that girl’s life!