THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW

ATHENA & TELEMACHUS ALUMNI

Sarah Hesterman:   "When people feel disenfranchised, they become less involved in political processes."

Sarah Hesterman:"When people feel disenfranchised, they become less involved in political processes."

 
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Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life's story!

I was born in the United States, and moved around quite a lot as a child. I lived in Washington D.C. for the longest period of time, which naturally lead to me developing an interest in policy and governance. I also lived in the U.K. and Qatar before graduating high school, providing me with a new lens through which I could reevaluate my country’s approach to human rights, its political processes, and its coalescence of cultures. In 2014, I became involved with the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up campaign after learning about the challenges facing adolescent girls regarding their rights to education, economic opportunity, security, governance, and health. After spending the summer engaging with U.S. Congress members to garner support for the Girls Count Act, a bipartisan bill that recognized the importance of birth registration for children (and girls in particular) around the world, I began what has now been four life-changing years of grassroots and legislative advocacy. I am now in my third year of university as a student of Long Island University Global, an intensive study abroad program which has provided me the opportunity to study in Central America, Europe, and North Africa. In addition to my studies abroad, I have been so fortunate to have been able to travel to nearly fifty countries, where I’ve met countless individuals who are unyielding in their fight to create a more sustainable and equal world. Along with being a full-time student, I am also a U.S. delegate to the Youth Assembly at the UN, where I promote the role of girls and women in development policy. I am proud to know that my country is full of young people who are genuinely interested in effecting progressive, positive change at a local, regional, and national level despite the challenges we may be facing.

Q: What is your view of the world as it is today? And how do you define the concept of a better world?

Saying that the world is a complicated place would be an understatement, but I place my faith in the the millions of girls globally who face serious injustices every single day and still rise the next morning. They are our future, but their futures are at risk. Somewhere in the world, there is a girl who dreams of going to medical school, but will end up in a hospital giving birth as an adolescent. There is a girl who dreams of creating policy and leading her community, but will be told that she isn’t smart enough to run for office. My concept of a better world includes the uprooting of systematic sexism that allows girls to be treated as second-class citizens. Everyone suffers when we hold back the members of such a large demographic from fulfilling their full potential. A better world is one where we can question societal norms, and then work to change or dismantle the structures of power that affirm them. At the crux of this must be people of all backgrounds working together to generate solutions that are all-encompassing of policy initiatives, grassroots activism, and the reframing of how we educate our youth about gender.

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Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society?

The list of challenges facing people in the United States is lengthy: water contaminated with lead, school shootings, racial profiling, healthcare rollbacks, and the overriding of anti-discrimination policies are just a few. There are many people in my country who feel that they are facing the consequences of being represented by politicians who fail to prioritize the rights of their constituents over party loyalty and policy stances bought by donors. When people feel disenfranchised, they may become less involved in political processes, which is a huge detriment to democracy. I vehemently believe that a core pillar of moving towards better governance is, first and foremost, the inclusion of those who traditionally do not have a chair at the decision-making table.

Q: As a young individual what are a few of the hurdles that you had to overcome up until today?

A hurdle I’ve faced, and one that is quite relevant to my country’s current political climate, is the feeling of being ignored by those who were elected to represent me and my fellow youth. Issues such as socioeconomic inequality and climate change will impact the future of youth most severely, yet there seems to be a disconnect between constituents and politicians. We must be able to engage as stakeholders on an even plane with high-level decision makers. My generation should be seen for what it is, a force that is driving change, and not as apathetic or indifferent.

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

Having a mentor has given me a highly valuable opportunity to develop both professionally and personally. While my mentor can offer me great connections and the ability to build my network, the most important thing she has given me is the inspiration to become a better human.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?

Something that has stuck with me was an experience I had in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when my class and I visited a village near Srebrenica. We were hosted by one of only four families to return to their village after a horrific genocide that took place there less than three decades ago. Being in a place where a true crime against humanity happened, and being graciously accepted into the homes of people who were willing to share their stories of suffering with us so we could learn was truly eye-opening. It made me realize that we should use our short time on Earth to make sure that someday, people are forever free from senseless violence and persecution. Understanding the failure of the international community to keep these people safe also taught me a valuable lesson in questioning our institutions so we can challenge them to be better.

Q: Name a project, a foundation or a person in your country that you think is doing great work in helping improve other people's lives!

I've been really impressed by the efforts of Running Start and She Should Run, which are two movements that aim to increase the number of women in public office. The former offers programs for young women to realize their leadership potential, while the later has an awesome incubator for girls and women who want to run for office.

Q: What are some of the challenges that women in your country face and what efforts are made towards gender equality?

As an advocate for the fifth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, gender equality, I am especially adamant about getting girls and women involved in politics. More than half of the United States’ population is female, but just last year the percentage of female Congress members in each chamber hovered around 20%. Girls and women need the resources that are necessary to build campaigns and run for office, so that the policies affecting us can also shaped by us. The wage gap, healthcare for women, and money given to international aid and family planning were just a few targets of some Congress members in the past two years. I believe that we must have more representation on the floors of the House and Senate, and that the the voices of girls and women need to be elevated in a legislative process that seems to have the power to impede our basic freedoms. There should be a strong correlation between gender and the intended outcomes of policy implementation, which entails thoughtful consideration of the role that girls and women play on both sides of the legislation. There two organizations I previously mentioned are great examples of efforts that are being made to close the gap in politics.

Q: Athena40 is the first ever global selection of the top 40 women forward thinkers, commentators, activists, authors, academics, entrepreneurs, executives, innovators. Can you think of a truly innovative and forward-thinking woman from your country that you wish to nominate for the Athena40 global ranking?

Dana Shell Smith, former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_Shell_Smith) She is one of the most outspoken and foward-thinking people I have ever met, and she has held a number of important positions within the U.S. State Department.

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that you love or you find interesting!

“I raise up my voice- not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard." -Malala Yousafzai

Q: Tell us one thing that you have learned from your mentor.

Geraldine has taught me how to appreciate every moment of my life that makes me happy or gives me inspiration, no matter how small. Some of the first questions she asked me were about what makes me genuinely smile, what activities make me lose track of time, and what people come to me for, all things I had never taken time to ask myself. She made me realize that I need to prioritize my mental health, and helped me recognize the importance of being a fulfilled individual. In turn, the special relationship I have cultivated with her has made me a better person and a better advocate.