Selin Ozunaldim.

As a 17-year-old gender activist from Istanbul, my journey started two years ago when my 7-year-old brother once told me that I was lucky because I just simply could get married and I didn’t have to work after. 

That was probably the moment when I apprehended I was going to be, I had to be the voice of change. That was the moment when I realized the risk of this mindset created by the society. Such a stereotype that even could, and would, affect little child’s thought structure. I remember promising myself to take action in the morning because, if not me, then who? If not now, then when? and sending an email to UNWomen to become involved in the HeForShe movement later that night.

I see that you’re the founder of the Girl Up Campaign in Turkey. Could you tell us a little about the initiative, what inspired you to start it, and what your overall goal for it is?

Being an activist, day by day, you find more things that have to be changed. I am living in Istanbul, I do go to a private school and I am more on the lucky side of my country but because of that, I believe it is and should be my responsibility to help girls who do not have the same opportunities that I have, being the voice of young women and giving them a platform to find their own voices. That brings us to the start of my journey with starting the first Girl Up Club in my country, Girl Up Istanbul. Girls have tremendous, often untapped power to change the world. As Girl Up Campaign, started by United Nations Foundation in 2010, our mission is to help girls access their inner power to advance the skills, rights, and opportunities of girls everywhere, in every corner around the globe. 

Can you tell us about some of the major obstacles you faced when creating Girl Up? How did you overcome them? Furthermore, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking about launching their own start-up but are hesitant due to commitment and responsibilities? 

As Girl Up Istanbul, we have officially launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the hectic times, I have never thought people would be interested in participating but it was quite the opposite. I believe with the pandemic, people had to urge to support each other and be there for each other while being productive, which is similar to Girl Up’s goal. Until this day, we still are receiving many messages about ways to get involved in our club so I would like to announce that our submissions for the 2021 period will be open soon. 

As advice, I would say that, if you really do believe in the cause you can do it. There are thousands of young changemakers around the globe who are seeking the same cause as you do, whos goals are the same so please do not hesitate to get in touch with people, to expand your vision and your network. Also, keep in mind that the only thing that can stop you is yourself.

I also noticed that you’re the founder of two other organizations (We Ground Zero & Girls Who Code) and part of three others (Girl Rising, He For She, & Young BPW Maiden’s Tower TR). Do you find being a part of five organizations stressful? If so, how do you manage and maintain your mental health?

To be honest, like any other thing, activism can be stressful sometimes but at the end of the idea, I do believe in the cause, I do believe the idea I stand for. I think the key is finding your balance. Listen to your guts, listen to what is good for you and what not. For me the hardest part was learning how to say ‘no’. I would always feel scared to let people down and be not good enough. So if you are feeling the same, you are not alone, never.

How I manage my mental health is, for example if I had a very busy day and I feel bery tired and know that I am not productive anymore, instead of pushing myself and be on the edge of mental breakdown, I just make myself a coffee, read a good book or do Netfix party with my friends, even breathing exercise are very helpful, you can try meditation! 

How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself during the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?

I was at the FIRST Robotics Competition right before the lockdown started. I was with my best friends for 6 days and had the most amazing time, we won the ticket to the Championship which was going to take place in Houston, and then everything…stopped. It was so strange to see how everything was changed in 24 hours. It was, of course, hard at first but then I have decided to use it as an opportunity to be productive and improve myself. For example, during the summer I became a member of the Young Leaders Task Force by Girl Rising as an intern where I got the chance to work with 27 changemaker young people from all around the world. Across the globe, classrooms are now silent. UNESCO estimates that more than 700 million girls are affected by school closures due to the pandemic, and a recent report estimates that 10 million girls are at risk of never returning to school due to gender inequities.  As Girl Rising, we have started a fundraising to support girls’ education during the pandemic. Rising Together is a peer-to-peer campaign to support our partners in Guatemala and Kenya and the young people they serve to provide the resources, tools, and supplies needed to connect girls with educators, mentors, and educational materials. Another project we are very much proud of is our Storytelling Challenge where we have partnered up with HP Computers. In the last few months, the COVID19 pandemic has revealed deep-seated racial,  gender and economic inequities. The social impacts are being felt most deeply by people of color, women and girls who are already historically disadvantaged. At the same time, every day extraordinary people across the globe are courageously working towards equity, justice, and a better future. Now is an important time to listen and learn from each other. We want to highlight the powerful work that you are doing to create a more just and equal world. As Girl Rising,  we want to hear your stories and amplify your voice. 

What self-care practices do you recommend? Furthermore, why is it important to scope out time for yourself each day?

I used to always challenge myself and push the limits, which can be good but for such a long time I wouldn’t allow myself to take a break because ‘not doing anything’ and focusing on myself sounded like I was not doing enough and I was selfish. Imposter syndrome is so real. But especially during the pandemic, I have realized how wrong I was, in fact, focusing yourself can even be a motivation and way to focus on your works even better afterwards, it helps you to be your best possible self. 

One of the self-care practices I do is reading books because I am a huge bookworm. (laughs) I also like to do things that make me geniunely happy, for example watching a Disney movie. I know it may sound silly but watching an old Disney movie makes me happy and it makes me feel like everything is going to be okay, there is hope in this world etc. Give it a try! (laughs) 

Another thing I do is go out for jogging, work-out, cycling, I think doing sports is such a good way to reduce stress and get your mind off of things. 

Who have been your biggest role-models or resources in times of unsureness, grief, and healing? 

Michelle Obama, Lady Diana, Malala, Audrey Hepburn, Oprah… All of these wonderful women have played a huge role in my character development for sure.

Is there anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you? 

Fun fact: I am a huge geek! I grew up with a geek father and turned out to be an even more geek! 

Actual fact: I would like to share my motto, which is by Gandhi, ‘’Be the change you want to see in the world’’ this quote is what keeps me going.

Check out Selin!

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