Munira Alimire used to be wary of public speaking, but a venture into spoken word poetry helped her find her voice.
Now, the 16-year-old whose mouth can't keep up with the thousands of thoughts running through her head, plans to use her new found comfort with public speaking to advocate for women's issues around the world. Alimire was named one of 21 teen advisers for the United Nations Foundation's "Girl Up" campaign, which is aimed at supporting women's empowerment around the world.
Alimire was born in the United States but spent much of her childhood in Kenya, an experience that has shown her how wildly different life can be for women, depending on where you are born.
"I don't think it's fair for me to be able to walk in the streets with a higher degree of comfort than my counterpart in Kenya, or somewhere else in the world, just because I was born here," she said. "As an American citizen in Rochester it doesn't make sense for me not to think about those issues just because I live here."
Alimire is heading into her senior year at Rochester STEM Academy in the fall, she's also enrolled as a PSEO student at Rochester Community and Technical College, and was recently named to MIT's MOSTEC program, which is a six-month online science and engineering program for rising high school seniors from across the country.
With an identity that isn't shared by many of her Rochester peers — as a second-generation Somali American and Muslim — she's not only embraced those differences, but worked toward finding the commonalities that can benefit all women.
She has her sights set on advocating for women's issues in the U.S., such as encouraging more women to go into STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math — and to find leadership roles while there. And she also wants to continue the conversation that's recently been started about female genital mutilation — both locally, and around the world.
Alimire knows addressing these topics isn't going to be an easy feat, and recognizes the biggest barrier to starting the conversation with someone who doesn't agree with you is the fear of offending people.
The "Girl Up" effort, "which has quickly become a borderless movement," according to the UN, aims to create a generation of female leaders by helping girls develop leadership skills through community mobilization, training in advocacy, public speaking and fundraising.
In the past, groups of high school "Girl Up" advisers have tackled issues such as ending child marriage and ensuring girls throughout the world are registered at birth. The teens advocate and energize others to take action in support of United Nations programs serving adolescent girls in developing countries, according to the UN.
There are more than 1,200 "Girl Up" clubs in more than 60 countries, according to the UN. As part of her designation as an advisor, she'll start one up locally, and advocate for women's issues in Rochester.
In July, she'll get to begin a conversation about national and global issues when she comes together with other teen advisors in Washington, D.C., for a leadership day.
"I want girls here to realize that they're not isolated and that they're connected to a community of girls around the world," she said. "I want everyone to feel responsible for every single girl around the world. We should not be able to sit down and say those crimes are not happening right next to us so we can ignore them."
Eventually, she hopes to pursue a career that will merge the sciences and social science, she said, hoping to someday work with the United Nations as a doctor or a lawyer that can address worldwide health issues such as AIDS, malaria and female genital mutilation.
She said some of the values she has learned growing up here play a big role in her career choices.
"I'm very grateful to live in Rochester because it's a community of people, even if they all have differing beliefs, they all believe that each and every single human being should have the same access to dignity, health and respect."