CULTURE KLASH: Right to Learn

By on March 15, 2017

Film screening and art project empower young women and expand their perspectives on the world.

JHHS senior Bridget Murphy opens the eyes of local middle school girls with her capstone project.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – When Bridget Murphy started her capstone internship at Interconnections 21 (IC21) this school year, she was excited to help with the screening of He Named Me Malala. The film follows the life and work of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, a 19-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012. Her offense?  Advocating that girls have the right to go to school just like their male classmates.

Murphy, a senior at Jackson Hole High School, devised a way to deepen the impact of the film on young female viewers. Talking with IC21 director Shelby Read, Murphy decided she would work with the 30 middle-school girls in the Girls Actively Participating (GAP!) program. She scoured the Malala Fund website and found pictures of murals created by people around the world in honor of Malala’s call for equal education for girls and boys. “I fell in love with the idea of using art to demonstrate knowledge and understanding,” Murphy said.

Murphy conducted her workshop with the GAP! girls earlier this month. After giving a brief presentation about Malala and threats to girls’ education internationally, she gave them several options for creative expression. She offered prompts such as, “Write a letter to Malala describing what your education means to you,” or “Write a poem about the importance of education,” or “What is something you are strongly passionate about in school?” The girls responded in a variety of mediums.

“I was beyond impressed by their levels of creativity and how their minds interpreted the information I had just presented to them,” Murphy said.

GAP! director Jessica Yeomans said that Murphy served as a role model to the younger girls. “By having Bridget present her capstone project to the girls, they could witness what one senior’s competence and confidence looks like.”

Now the middle school girls share Murphy’s knowledge about what it means to have access to education. Murphy’s personal interest in Malala’s story came from reading the autobiography, I Am Malala. “Growing up, Malala worked extremely hard and loved to go to school to compete with her classmates for top honors,” Murphy explained. “She was so passionate about being educated that even after her father was threatened and the Taliban forbade [girls’] education in her valley, she and her friends found ways to go to school.”

Murphy contrasted Malala’s educational challenges with her own. “I used to complain about the stressful amounts of homework I had every night.”

But after reading Malala’s book and researching education across the world, Murphy’s perspective changed. “I realized that my problems of being in school were something that millions of kids would dream of having. I became cognizant of the safe, encouraging, and beneficial space that school is.”

Everyday bravery

He Named Me Malala is an Emmy-nominated film by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) that takes viewers inside Malala’s life, her close relationship with her father, and her impassioned speeches on the rights of girls to attend school.

Reviewer Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian, “The film is incidentally valuable in showing that her campaigning identity did not begin with being shot, like some comic-book superheroine.”

Indeed, Yeomans says that one of the powerful aspects of Malala’s story is that she insists that she is just a normal girl and that her bravery is not extraordinary.

“Malala knows what she values in life, and couldn’t imagine a world where she didn’t live those values everyday,” Yeomans said. “She has inspired the world to stay true to themselves and be a little braver each day.”

Murphy said working with the GAP! girls was her way of sharing with others her own realization about how fortunate she is to live in a country that values education as a fundamental right.

“I had asked some of the middle school girls before I started my presentation if they liked and appreciated school and many said ‘No,’” Murphy reported. “But by the end of our day, after being exposed to the heart-rending struggles that girls their age face every day around the world, those answers changed to ‘Yes.’”

IC21’s Read explained: “Part of why IC21 is in engaged in the kind of work we do is because of our geographical isolation. It’s critical that we bring stories, people, art, and ideas from around the world into our community.”  PJH

IC21 and GAP! present He Named Me Malala, 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16 at Teton County Library.

About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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