To celebrate International Women’s Day, Global UGRAD students reflected on women from all backgrounds and walks of life who have inspired them to pursue their dreams.
Maureen Tejeda, Dominican Republic, University Houston-Victoria: The woman who has inspired me to continue pursuing my dreams is the best known as “RBG”, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is a legal legacy and a strong and charming woman. The way she thinks not like a conservative or liberal, rather, she is moderate. However, like me, she has some liberal ideologies and uses them to make her own decisions. What I most admire about her is that she had to go through a lot of things to become the woman she is today. She has now gained respect from society and she loves to serve others, she is a warrior and an unstoppable worker. No matter the struggles she has been through like battling 3 cancers, being pregnant while studying in college, and losing her mom and her husband, she worked to advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. She is my role model. As a lawyer to-be, I wish to someday meet a lawyer like her.
Steffi Eunice Ramos, Philippines, Castleton University: I am writing about Liliosa Hilao, known to be the one of the first victims and martyrs of the Martial Law era in the Philippines. While she was a member of the national youth movement in the Philippines that played a prominent role in the upsurge of activism against tyranny and dictatorship in the 70s, her poor health did not allow her to join mass demonstrations. Instead, she used her talent and position as the associate editor of her campus paper to write stories about the death of democracy in the Philippines, corruption, human rights violations, and government tyranny. In 1973, she was abducted by drunk soldiers when she demanded to see a search warrant when they came looking for her brother. She was found dead the next day with signs of torture. The authorities made it look like she killed herself by drinking muriatic acid. Two weeks later, her university held their graduation ceremonies where she was still conferred her degree posthumously, with Cum Laude honors. They also kept her seat empty in her remembrance. Liliosa Hilao’s story shows us that activism and fighting for what is right comes in many forms. For Liliosa, activism meant using the power of her pen. And while this might have led to her untimely death, she was one of the many people who sacrificed their lives for the end of a dictatorship in the Philippines.
Durdona Akhmadjanova, Uzbekistan, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay: There are many women who have changed and shaped the role of women today. No human is an island and I believe that there is no such thing as a “self-made man” or a “self-made woman.” We receive and are influenced so much by so many for so long that we cannot even keep count. For this reason, whenever people ask about the person whom I deem the most inspirational, Svetlana Artikova springs to my mind. Since childhood I enjoyed watching the news, especially about politics and economics with my grandfather. Even if I did not understand the context, my granddad explained everything in his own words and believed that one day, I can be one of the politicians or economists who will make a change in Uzbekistan. Once, on a news broadcast, I saw Svetlana Artikova having a harsh debate about law and politics. She was clear, enthusiastic, and charismatic when speaking. My granddad told me she was the first Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan. Since then I read about her and followed her. Her strong knowledge about her field, her persuasiveness, and her willingness to make a change in political aspects while being a single female among male senates has inspired me. Following her I started to believe in myself. I learned to fight for my rights, state my own opinion, and never give up on my goals. I feel happy to have such strong women in Uzbekistan.
Nelida Balbuena, Paraguay, University of Utah: Let me introduce you to a lovely woman named Betty Baxter who is 83 years old. She used to be a 3rd grade teacher in Florida. After she retired she decided to move to Paraguay to continue working in what she loves—teaching. She has been teaching for about 50 years and has the ability to inspire people to pursue their dreams in such an amazing way. She will always encourage you to be a better version of yourself and to work hard, but most importantly to never give up. She has been teaching all of us, her students, what we didn’t believe we could learn. The most outstanding fact about her is that hundreds of her students keep in contact with her, sending messages of gratitude or updating her about their lives. She always says the famous quote, “people may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” This quote resembles her life.
Ryenchin Myagmarsuren, Mongolia, Castleton University: A woman who inspires me is Sanjaasuren Oyun, a prominent Mongolian politician. She was the former Minister of Environment and Green Development, and has been a Member of Parliament of Mongolia since 1998. She is also a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is the current head of the Zorig Foundations, and is the new head of Global Water Partnership (GWP). I didn’t know much about her when I met her for the first time. At that time, I was starting to work as a volunteer in her organization. After working very close to her, I realized who she is. She encouraged me a lot. Even though she was a successful leader when we were in conversation, she was like my friend. This is one of the main characteristics I’m very inspired by so far. I also admire her work in addressing critical issues facing Mongolia including health, education, environmental policies, and women’s political participation. She was the very first successful Mongolian female leader. In 2003, she was awarded a Eisenhower Fellowship in the United States. In 2006, Oyun was selected as a Young Global Leader (YGL) by the Davos World Economic Forum. She has been an active member of the YGL community since. On June 24, 2014, Oyun was elected the first president of the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Alexei Terin, Russia, Minnesota State University Mankato: Truly speaking, many people inspire and encourage me – from Erin Brockovich and Queen Elizabeth II to my teachers. However, there is one human being who personally supports me. This is my mother. My relationship to her is like the Josh Groban song lyrics “she raises me up, so I can stand on mountains, and I am strong when I am on her shoulders!” She is my satellite as she always gives me good advice and approves of my decisions. She is my inspiration. And, to tell the truth, I achieve everything that she had told me I can achieve. The Global UGRAD Program is the aim that she said I could reach. You see, she was as always right. I love my Mum and I wish her everything that she wants!
Dibina Rijal, Nepal, Georgia College & State University: Anuradha Koirala is not just an inspiration to me, but to thousands of people. Anuradha is a Nepalese social activist and the founder and director of Maiti Nepal, a non-profit organization in Nepal which is dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking. She is appointed as 1st Women Governor of Province No. 3 on 17 January 2018 by Government of Nepal. Anuradha was presented with the CNN Heroes Award 2010 in Los Angeles, California. She received the Mother Teresa Award in 2014. Anuradha received the Best Social Worker of the Year Award (Nepal) in 1998, the Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu Medal (Nepal) in 1999, the Award in 2002, the Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey Foundation in 2006, the German UNIFEM Prize in 2007, and the Queen Sofia Silver Medal Award in 2007.
Servete Ceka, Albania, North Central College: Mother Teresa is my role model as is the person to whom I look when I need to get motivated to help people. She was born in Skopje, Macedonia and her parents were of Albanian descent. Her whole life was dedicated to helping those less fortunate throughout the world with great love and compassion. Her kindness, patience, strength and persistence to help the ones in need inspired me to start participating in events that can help others. As Mother Teresa said: “We ourselves feel that we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” She uses simple words yet they are deep and can touch everyone’s hearts. I am inspired and motivated by her volunteer work and whenever I feel that what I am doing is not enough, I just follow what she said again: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” After all this time volunteering, I have certainly learned that anything can help and even the smallest actions can have a great impact for those in need. Looking back at what she did, I feel inspired and motivated to volunteer during my free time and make the best out of my life.
Kendra Mejia Perez, Honduras, Murray State University: Oprah Gail Winfrey is a woman who has inspired me most in my personal and professional life. She was born in the rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954 in the U.S. She is an American media executive, actress, talk show host, television producer, and a philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011 in Chicago. Even though she had a difficult and troubled adolescence, she did not give up in fighting against any kind of obstacles to achieve her dreams. Nowadays, Oprah is the first African American female billionaire in the U.S. She inspires me daily to understand that there is nothing impossible in life. Life became beautiful and meaningful when I decided to see it in a positive way. Oprah has taught me that no matter what circumstances I am dealing with, I can get through it. I love one of her favorite quotes which says “If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” Undoubtedly, her story can help young people like me to pursue their dreams.
Alda Asikin, Indonesia, Georgia College & State University: Anna Taylor once said, “some people arrive and make such a beautiful impact on your life, you can barely remember what life was without them.” This is a picture of me with my friends Dewy, Tika, Delsy and Reza. They are my best friends from my hometown. We met in college, because we all studied the same major and took the same classes. They have inspired and empowered me every day. Their friendship, kindness, bravery and patience has built me into a better person. They make my life seem less confusing, my heartbreaks feel less painful, and my future sound less scary. It is a privilege to be able to know them. Thank you for all your love and guidance!
Mirna Solis, Panama, North Central College: For me, my inspiration, has always come from the women around me, especially my mom. Since I was a little girl, she encouraged me to be the best version of myself, to always follow my dreams, to work hard, to not get discouraged if things didn’t go the way I hoped they would. Heroes are always around us but some don’t always use capes. They might use aprons and be with you everyday. They wake you up, make sure you’re alright, kiss you goodbye and are always with you in the good times and the bad. I know that if the world is against me, my mom would always have my back. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for her. She gives me the courage to chase after my dreams no matter how crazy they are and she’s always there to help me stand up when I fall.
Irakli Iagorashvili, Georgia, Castleton University: There are several people who have influenced me but this time I want to talk about Ayn Rand, a Russian-American writer and philosopher who has had a major impact on my way of thinking. Her philosophy motivated me to do more for my success and to understand that I have to be ready to overcome all life’s problems alone. Her philosophy provoked me to do more for my self-development to get by in this competitive world. She has mostly strengthened the values that I already had. She motivated me to fight more in order to achieve more individual freedom in my country and in myself. Some of her ideas were revolutionary for her time. I am always fan of someone whose ideas are revolutionary and they somehow go against the widely accepted ideas and opinions. I read some of her articles and found other people who were interested in her. A few weeks ago, I visited New York City and her house in Manhattan. It was a very amazing moment for me. I saw the same city sights she saw while writing her most popular novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Unfortunately, many people don’t know who is she and what her philosophy of objectivism teaches us. I am happy that I had a chance to find out about her. With the help of her interviews and articles, I think more about the various interesting topics of our lives.
Gabriela Marotta, Venezuela, University of Arkansas: I was probably 15 when I first heard of Irena Sendler and from that day on I could never forget her name. I remember I was in high school and we were supposed to write an essay about women who changed the world. I researched for hours until I came across Irena Sendler’s story. Irena was a young Polish nurse who worked in the Warsaw Ghetto helping sick Jewish people and volunteering as an activist for the Free Polish University. Sendler took a stand in the face of injustice, cruelty, and unfairness and saved over 2,000 Jewish children from dying in concentration camps or from diseases in the Ghettos. Irena sent children to religious institutions, foster families, and shelters and gave them new identities. She risked the lives of the kids but also her own. Sendler kept a record of the children she saved by writing their names in jars and buried them under a tree that can still be found in Poland. Irena was eventually arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death (the latter, fortunately, did not take place). Sendler is a fantastic example of how sometimes humans can find great courage and bravery to sacrifice our own interests for a greater good. I deeply admire her, and cannot stopping asking myself: if faced with injustice, would I have done the same?
Veranika Kukushkina, Belarus, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville: A graceful and elegant woman, but at the same time a capricious rebel, Scarlett O’Hara, for me, is a symbol of enterprise, temperament, and the ability to survive and go against public opinion. Even though in her time public opinion played a significant role, she did what she considered necessary and did not adapt to anyone’s wishes. I associate the image of the gorgeous Scarlett with Vivien Leigh, as she received an honored Oscar. This is a photo of me playing Scarlet’s character. It allows you to plunge into the atmosphere of the time of “Gone with the Wind.”
Anna Prokhorenko, Russia, Keuka College: This is a picture of me and my mom, Tatyana. She’s the person who always inspires me to pursue all my dreams. She loves traveling and taking photos of nature and beautiful architecture. Moreover, she helped me to decide my major — Education. My mom always says that a teacher is a great profession! She inspires me to achieve my goals, travel to different countries, and experience new cultures! She was so excited when I told her I applied to get the Global UGRAD scholarship – I think she was even happier than me! I want to congratulate my mommy, the person who always believes in me and supports me and tell her happy International Women’s Day! I want to say that I love her so much!
Nilufar Muradova, Tajikistan, California State University – Bakersfield: In my community girls either have limited access to education or their relatives choose their future profession. My family always wanted me to be a doctor. As a child, I often used to ask myself: Is there an alternative life where women can pursue a masculine profession? Is there something else besides the boundaries that I have? At the age of 14, in October 21, 2011, I went to a press conference in the Ismaili Center of Dushanbe, where a woman with blond hair was speaking. Our coordinators only told us, “This is a very important person, keep yourself quiet and decent.” We were sent there as students of English Access, a U.S. Department of State program. I had no idea who she was and why she was there. However, I was struck by something else – all the men and women in the hall were watching her speaking and journalists were trying to ask her questions. She was confident, strong, and influential. I am a child from a remote town and at that moment discovered a world where a woman is speaking from tribune. She is respected and heard. “Such women exist!” – I thought. Those two hours changed my life. The same evening, I saw her on local TV – I found out that she was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This was my first contact with the world of politics. Everyone in my family tried to force me to become a doctor, but I applied to study International Relations. I dream that one day, somewhere, in the corner of a hall, a little girl will be inspired by me and will break all stereotypes and dogmas that don’t let her pursue her dreams and the way she wants to live.