The Main Streets of Madison County are a far cry from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, but The Million Girl Army aims to connect the two through personal interactions and education on the issues affecting women near and far.
Brainchild of Ennis resident Sara Johnson, The Million Girl Army is a developing non-profit that Johnson said she hopes will educate and inspire one million middle school and high school girls in the United States and other developed countries in the world to donate $10 a year to help girls their age in developing countries. The outreach will be done through schools, churches and social media.
Johnson and four other local women are travelling to Asia in January to collect stories from young girls about the challenges they face. They will also meet with groups who are working directly with the young girls.
“I hope the trip inspires the team to dream much grander than they would have before about how we can affect change from our corner of the world,” Johnson said.
Joining Johnson are Megan Winderl, Haley Konen, Samantha McKay and Shanna Swanson. Johnson’s father and sister will travel with them, as well as an interpreter. The group departs U.S. soil Jan. 12.
Johnson said the trip has come together against many odds, including the large price tag for a total of eight people to make the trip that will include a visit to a refugee camp on the Thailand-Burma border and interactions with groups dealing with sex trafficking. Johnson said some of these groups could be future recipients of funds raised by The Million Girl Army.
“Through the generous donations of people, we are now nearly fully funded and ready to go, a blessing that is difficult to put into words,” Johnson said. Each of the women did their own fundraising. In Swanson’s case, that meant using her skills as professional photographer.
Swanson will document the trip in photos. She said she missed a previous opportunity to travel to Cambodia and wants to use this experience to see and understand the lifestyle in these other countries. This will be the first trip of this kind for each of Swanson, Winderl, Konen and McKay. They have all travelled abroad before, but more for pleasure than anything else.
A teacher by trade, McKay is currently living and working in Australia. She said she anticipates this trip will teach her a thing or two.
“This once in a lifetime trip will teach me in ways that are simply impossible with a professor and attendance record,” McKay said. “I plan to share my experiences with others who care to learn and listen to our story.”
Konen, the youngest of the group, said this trip is something she has dreamt of doing. She said she is excited about the entire trip because she is the closest to the targeted age group. Konen and Johnson said they believe that even though a person is young they can still make a difference—a concept that helps define The Million Girl Army.
“I’ve worked with Sara on a couple different projects and know the quality of the group,” Winderl said. “This is really out of the box for me and a chance for me to give back in a different way.”
This is not Johnson’s first trip. In 2007 she began travelling to Asia with her father and sister and other companions. She said they aimed to do their small part to right the injustices of the world no matter where they were or what they were doing on their trip. From these trips, the idea of The Million Girl Army originated.
Johnson said the opportunities she’s had in her life are great, but she felt the need to help other women have the same chance to succeed in education, business and other endeavors.
“This trip to Asia is essential to the initial launch of The Million Girl Army,” Johnson said. “Not only will we secure testimonies and stories from young girls throughout Asia, which can be used in future marketing, but it’s my chance to take a selection of bright, young women with me. Women who I know will be inspired and changed by what they see.”
The focus of The Million Girl Army is not solely in Asia. Johnson said the organization will travel to and work in Africa – South Africa and Ethiopia — as well. No trip to Africa has been planned yet.
Any extra funds raised will be used while in Asia to donate to families in need or put toward the non-profit’s startup. Johnson said she would also like to provide scholarship opportunities in the future as well as more chances to travel. To donate, contact Johnson at 570-4249.
The group’s travels will be documented online at www.themilliongirlarmy.wordpress.com.