Essay for TUN Scholarship

For a long time, there was a strange sort of guilt that I carried. I carried it because I didn’t know what else I could do with it — casting it aside would put me at risk of becoming uncaring, but I didn’t know what else I could do with it. The guilt I felt was that of being a straight, cisgender, able-bodied white woman — and due to a profound lack of knowledge on the struggles others faced, and of any idea how to help, I kept carrying it up until I turned sixteen.

And when I was sixteen, for the first time, I started asking, “How can I help?”

I read the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, taking in the methods that the Taliban had used to try to control girls in Pakistan. I listened to those, at home and abroad, who were forced to make the choice between paying for school, or rent, or food. In Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky, I read about the enduring struggle for gender equality in the developing world.

And most importantly, I listened. I learned what charities to donate to, and where to go to help those struggling get microloans that could be repaid when they had the money. I learned how imperative Planned Parenthood was, and how to use my privilege to help diffuse situations that might otherwise end in violence.

I was carrying around that guilt, I realized, because I was acutely aware that it was my greatest worry. I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, or whether the electricity would be shut off, or about the cleanliness of my water. I’ve never, ever had to worry about my safety due to my sexual orientation or race (though my gender has occasionally brought up some concerns). Gender aside, however, I have been able to truly believe that the sky’s the limit when it comes to my aspirations because of my privilege. As a writer, I was never forced away from my writing towards a job, or chased toward a different career path because “writers don’t make money.” I have been able to write because I have never had to worry about food, or water, or basic shelter.

This is my experience as an affluent white woman. It should be the basic experience around the world. The Sustainable Development Goals must reflect reality — it is no longer acceptable for anyone to grow up knowing they can never pursue their passions due to a lack of basic necessities.

I am privileged. I have been allowed to follow my aspirations. And now I plan on paying it forward — on using my writing to help others in my country and around the world who need it, in hopes that my voice, too, will reflect the goals the UN has set and bring about some kind of change.

I am still young. And my voice is still emerging.

But it is a start.