Eighth-grade St. Thomas student Sophie Sharp spent the last year diligently organizing a fun run 5K to support the Rwanda Girls Initiative, a local nonprofit that educates Rwanda’s most promising high school girls
There are these moments in our lives are like the tipping of a domino. One experience can have a cascading effect that shapes our perspective and direction.
For 14-year-old Sophie Sharp, that domino effect was initiated by a week-long trip to Rwanda with the Rwanda Girls Initiative and set the course for her eighth-grade culminating service project at St. Thomas School in Medina.
RGI was created in 2008 by two Medina women who wanted to serve others and knew they’d have the greatest impact in Africa. Their attention landed on Rwanda, a country devastated by genocide in 1994 that killed a million of its citizens in less than a year and left the population with women as the vast majority, said RGI Executive Director Hillary Carey. For the past 20 years, the country has been rebuilding and working to transition from an agricultural economy to a “knowledge-based” workforce supported by a stronger education infrastructure.
“Girls’ education is the most powerful change to provide systemic change, whether it’s peace-keeping, economic, climate change, infant mortality rate,” Carey said. “Girls education really is the silver bullet.”
In 2011, the Gashora Girls Academy in south-central Rwanda opened, accepting 270 of Rwanda’s most promising young women to attend the STEM-focused boarding school.
Sharp’s mom has been a supporter of RGI, and her family sponsors Divine, a 16-year-old girl attending the school. Roughly 30 people from the Seattle-area attended the trip to see the school and meet the girls they were supporting with fundraising efforts.
“I got to see all these amazing girls, and they’re going to college in America,” Sharp said. “One girl got into all the Ivy League schools. They’re just so passionate about what they do, and it makes me want to be passionate about what I do.”
When she came back, she knew immediately she wanted to support RGI with her eighth-grade project. As a passionate and talented runner, she decided to combine her two passions and set her sights on hosting a fun run.
Carey has helped her facilitate it, but Sharp largely organized the entire thing — from landing sponsorships, designing T-shirts, and obtaining all the permitting. The course snakes through Medina and Clyde Hill, so Sharp had to work with both police departments to secure the proper permits and design a course safe to runners.
On June 3, more than 150 participants will hit the streets for Sharp’s RGI Fun Run, and the event has already raised $10,000 — Sharp’s goal.
Kimberly Mecham, St. Thomas School’s director for the Center of Leadership and Innovation and RGI board member has watched in awe as Sharp executed her project. The school is at the tail end of a $23 million project to, in part, transform the existing gymnasium into a two-story Center of Innovation. It’s part of the school’s strategic plan and will be a hub for internal curriculum, community engagement and service, and workshops.
“When you heard Sophie, she took two of her passions and she was able to do something really incredible,” Mecham said. “She created an innovative way to raise awareness for the organization and raise the money. We want to do more of that and create a foundation, so as soon as (students) start here, we’re exposing them to opportunities and subjects to pursue their passions. This project is the perfect project to really put a spotlight on.”
Sharp said, though she’s not sure what career path she wants to take, she’s a fervent advocate for girls education and women’s rights, and she wants to make an impact.
“You’re not too small to do anything,” she said. “Even if you feel like you can’t do anything, those little actions count, and they make a huge difference. I thought, maybe I can’t do a fun run, but I thought: Maybe I’ll just try. It’s better to try and fail than not try at all.”
It’s not too late to sign up for the fun run. It starts at 8 a.m. on June 3 at the Medina Park. Registration is available online.