by Martha Adams, 10x10 Producer
I stared at my schedule, shook my head, then read through my calendar again: State Department to see Hillary Clinton honor the Ten Most Courageous Women in the World in AM, then United Nations Foundation to introduce the 10x10 girls to the Girl Up teen advisors at noon, THEN 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to celebrate International Women’s Day with the First Lady.
That’s a lot estrogen power for one day. My kind of day.
Secretary Clinton riled up the crowd: “Freedom has no boundaries!” Tortured, imprisoned, persecuted. Brilliant, generous and compassionate. The women sitting on stage with her fight the most brutal battles on behalf of girls across the world. Roza Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan, Marisela Morales of Mexico, Maria Bashir of Afghanistan.
I was in awe. If you think TED will do a number of your self-worth, try attending this event. Not only was I on my feet applauding non-stop but this DC crowd was whooping it up. You were right, Secretary of State Clinton, “Courage is contagious.”
<!–more–>Next stop: Girl Up! I walked into the boardroom at the U.N. Foundation and saw our future leaders. They might have been 16 but you can tell. And there were Sokha and Srey Na. Two of the very first girls Richard and I met while traveling for 10x10 in Cambodia. Born to abject poverty, they both have witnessed an unjust amount of despair. But there they were, in crisp new clothes, looking stunning, chatting with girls from Ohio and Maryland, as if they have been friends with Girl Up Teen Advisory Board for years.
I need to pause here and give it up to Gina Reiss-Wilchins, the new director of Girl Up, and Jenna Sabuer, her communications whiz. So few tickets were available but they were kind enough to include 10x10. We are forever indebted to you!
Inside the White House, Sokha, Srey Na and I stared at the tiered cake stands filed with tea-cakes and chocolate éclairs. Waiters in pressed black and white whisked by with silver trays of bubbly. We weren’t in Phnom Penh anymore!
We dove into conversations with stateswomen like Congresswoman Gwen Moore from Wisconsin. She wore a necklace with Harriet Tubman’s photo and told the girls about slavery in this country, and the importance of fighting modern-day slavery in places like Cambodia. The girls soaked it all in.
This is where lady-like behavior ended and turned into a World Wrestling Federation grunt. Note to self: be prepared for a smack-down if you want to shake hands with the First Lady. I had to push and block for a good hour to insure the girls a spot up front. (Think mosh pit, DC style.) Thank God Gina Reiss-Wilchins was next to me. She might be itty bitty but she can block with the best of them.
The first speaker to the podium was Shannon Hill McNamara, one of Girl Up’s teen advisors. There she stood in front of a bank of cameras and 200 or so guests and eloquently spoke about why girls in this country must reach out to girls around the world.
Then Issatou Hamidou Diall, a fiery13 year old from Burkina Faso, mesmerized the crowd talking about how she pleaded with her dad to let her go to school and how she is now the first in her family to read and write. I doubt her dad ever thought she’d be the one to introduce the First Lady.
I know Michelle’s speech was wonderful. I listened. I know I did. But honestly I can’t remember a single word. I could only think – “Damn, she looks gooooood.” AND “I cannot believe I am standing here with Sokha and Srey Na.”
Next thing you know the First Lady was standing in front of us, shaking our hands. Now I have to back up here. Outside the White House I had asked the girls what they would say IF they had the chance to speak with Michelle. Granted, I never actually thought that would happen but I was still curious. Srey Na told me: “Thank you Mrs. Obama for inviting me here today. I hope you can visit Cambodia one day.” Ok, that’ll do.
Cut back to the moment, the First Lady was working her way down the rope. She paused in front of Sokha and I heard her first words: “I am child from the dump.” Michelle was transfixed, locked in her steps. I went on to share that Sokha was the embodiment of all that she had spoken about in her two major speeches that day.
The girls were thrilled. Srey Na was visibly shaking with excitement and I was so proud of them. I didn’t realize it but we must have been dancing around, shrieking, and hugging each other because suddenly, my eyes locked with one of the First Lady’s bodyguards and I knew what he was thinking: “Jeez lady, get a hold of yourself. You are in the East Wing of the White House!”
“Educate girls, change the World” was the anthem. How blessed 10x10 is to have been in the eye of this perfect storm.