SEATTLE — To be successful, Canadian YouTube personality Lilly Singh only needed three things: a camera, an internet connection and a determination to make a difference. She transformed the art of making comedic YouTube videos from a hobby into a career. But she did not stop there. Singh wields much influence beyond her YouTube channel to help people in other countries gain prosperity. Her identity as a woman of Indian descent fuels her passion for girls’ education in Kenya and child safety in her parents’ homeland of India.
Lilly Singh Promotes Bracelets for Education
Despite improved enrollment rates for girls in primary education, there is still a gender disparity in Kenya’s higher levels. A mere 2.4 percent of girls in the Trans Mara West region and only 1 percent in Narok North attend universities. This is rooted in Maasai cultural traditions which assign economic value to women rather than fostering their education. They are viewed as trade products and given the same price as a cow or herd of sheep.
Another common Maasai practice is arranged marriage. Girls cannot attend school when they have to raise children and maintain a household. This contributes to financial stress because married girls have not learned job skills that could provide more income. They are expected to put their focus on family rather than providing services to their community.
Lilly Singh came up with a solution. Her #GirlLove campaign seeks to empower women and resulted in the creation and sale of Rafiki bracelets to raise money for girls’ education. Mothers in Kenya make and sell these bracelets so they can afford to send their daughters to school. The initial launch sold 6,500 bracelets with a total of $97,500 raised for girls’ education. The ME to WE shop has sold more than 29,800 to date.
Online Promotion of Childline 1098 Helps Indian Children in Need
Abused children in India struggle to get help, having little knowledge of where to report abuse. Is it the responsibility of the police, child welfare committees or hospitals? Many are unable to summon the courage to file a report in the first place. Victim blaming is a common response from community members when girls report sexual abuse. Boys are discouraged from reporting because societal norms say they are not supposed to be emotionally vulnerable. Child abuse at home might not be reported because children fear repercussions from their family members.
After visiting Indian villages in July 2017, Singh told Fast Company that she was surprised to see that almost everyone had a cell phone, regardless of financial status. Many of the children watched YouTube videos too. Singh realized she could use their exposure to the internet and her passion for digital content to help children in need. Her first initiative as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador was to create an advertisement about Childline 1098 that would play before YouTube videos. Childline 1098 is a 24/7 hotline where children can confidentially report abuse and request help. Singh also posted an ad on her Instagram account in the hopes that her followers from India would share it. She says that increased awareness correlates to more lives saved.
Lilly Singh proves that one person with humble beginnings and determination can make a worldwide impact. She is a leader in alleviating the effects of poverty—and preventing it too.
– Sabrina Dubbert