Teen boy finds calling as girls’ rights champion

girls rights

Angel Ortiz, back right, posing for a photo at the Girl Up Leadership Summit in June. Ortiz is president of the Girl Up club at his high school.

Angel Ortiz was the only boy to attend a recent gathering of student-advocates in the girls rights movement — but the 99-to-1 disparity was nothing new to him.

Ortiz, 17, made a name for himself several years ago at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles by becoming the first boy to join the student-led Girl Up club there.

Both experiences were challenging for Ortiz at first. But Girl Up supporters extended Ortiz a warm welcome in both instances, reassuring him that he was working on the right cause regardless of how many other boys were involved.

“I think it’s important because it’s not just women for women,” said Ortiz, reflecting on his time at the annual Girl Up Leadership Summit in June. “Men have to help as well. Working together — that’s how we can really make change.”

Inspired to organize

Ortiz, coming out of the conference, was brimming with ideas inspired by what he had learned.

The three-day event in Washington, D.C. was designed to advance the broader Girl Up movement and inspire supporters to continue raising awareness, funds and advocacy for marginalized girls around the world.

Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, advocates on behalf on an estimated 600 million adolescent girls living in developing counties by empowering American girls to become part of the solution. The movement has become international in the last year and now has 35 clubs outside of the United States.

girls rights

Angel Ortiz was the only boy among 99 girls and young women who attended the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. Credit: Angel Ortiz

Ortiz said the summit inspired him to set a goal this year of raising $1,000 on behalf of the organization, doubling what his school club raised last year.

Girl Up supports adolescent girls in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Liberia and Malawi by funding United Nations programs.

Ortiz said fundraising tips provided by leaders at the summit, such as pitching causes to potential donors in person, have given him more confidence.

He particularly enjoyed a roundtable discussion in which entrepreneurs explored how one person can affect change, he said. The conversation was moderated by Ingrid Vanderveldt, the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell.

“It taught us how to pitch ideas about Girl Up and get the message across to other boys and girls,” he said.

Speaking up for girls rights

Fundraising is just one way Girl Up lives up to its mission.

The organization also encourages supporters to urge U.S. lawmakers to back policy initiatives meant to improve the lives of girls abroad.

Girl Up supporters on the last day of the summit visited Capitol Hill to make sure lawmakers knew that many developing countries aren’t registering the births of millions of girls or providing them with government IDs.

How a boy got hooked

Ortiz joined Girl Up three years ago when a girl at his school persuaded him to attend a club meeting. His level of involvement in other service groups apparently impressed her, Ortiz said.

A video that organizers screened about a Guatemalan woman who was physically abused by her husband still resonates with Ortiz today.

“As soon as I saw that video, I was hooked,” he said.

Ortiz today is club president, leading a group of students with more than 30 active members. One-third are boys, most of whom Ortiz recruited by nudging them to attend just one meeting.

Getting more boys to support girls rights abroad remains high on Ortiz’s agenda as he plans to enter his senior year in the fall.

“For most of the guys, as soon as they went to the first meeting, they became advocates,” he said. “They found a passion for it.”

Nick Clunn is an award-winning journalist who has worked for several websites and daily newspapers, including The Record in New Jersey. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University. Follow him @NickClunn.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Business,Business Management,Corporate Responsibility,Downtime