Amid numerous problems currently plaguing the world, poverty remains one of the most insidious.
For young girls and women, poverty not only entails hunger and social stigma, but also the risk of being forced into early marriage and human trafficking.
On Thursday, the Tennessee chapter of She's the First hosted an interest meeting in the UC, calling students to confront this issue directly.
Advocating for the education of young girls and women in developing countries, the organization seeks to restore a degree of autonomy to the affected womens' lives by "sponsoring" education and helping them become "the first in their families to graduate from secondary school."
The chapters of She's the First act as a network for connecting sponsors and scholars in "mutually beneficial ways to foster mentorship, philanthropy, equality and leadership."
For Christian Sullivan, founding member and president of UT's chapter, it is vital to look beyond obvious solutions, instead addressing the underlying economic system that perpetuates "cycles of generational poverty."
"What we do is raise money for girls' education," Sullivan said. "What that does is tackle the gender-gap in literacy in developing ... nations. It also fights the income disparity between men and women, as well as social inequality and injustices that plague these nations. We want to provide women a voice and education in areas where they need it."
Students at the interest meeting were shown two short videos embodying the group's agenda.
"We wanted to show them what it would be like to put a face to the issue – to see others being affected directly by problems in a wide variety of cultures and people across the world," said Gracie McGuire, a senior in animal science and the organization's vice-president. "This is why we are doing what we're doing."
Though the organization is only embarking on its second semester at UT, McGuire is optimistic about the future of She's the First.
"We had as many people as we've ever had at a meeting," McGuire said. "People were really on fire about the issues. Everyone was really enthusiastic."
Micah Mohieddin, a senior in chemical engineering, left the meeting with a reformed perspective on charity.
"It was interesting," Mohieddin said. "The topic of educating people, in general, is a big issue, especially relating to women. They can come back to their community, teach their children and affect others' thinking."
Due to the strong interest shown, the group plans to move forward with two specific events.
"Our fundraising event usually happens in the first week of November or last week of October," Sullivan said. "(One is) called 'National Tie-Dye Cupcake Bakeoff Week' – our organization has a nationwide bake-off competition – and the funds from it all go towards educating the young girls and women."
Another event, called "Girl Rising," focuses on raising awareness about the problems faced by young girls and women in developing countries.
"We'll have several signs on Pedestrian Walkway, as well as several dry-erase boards," McGuire said. "When people pass by, they can write their opinion on what they think about women and education, as well as talk to us about what we do and what they can do to help."
She's the First is open to students of all backgrounds, male or female. Diversity is central to the organization's founding principles.
"It's not just a women's issue, because the ripple effect from educating women benefits all, from the community to entire economies and countries," McGuire said. "This is an issue that requires everyone's help to solve."