“One girl’s courage is a revolution; that’s how I feel and that’s what I’ll stand by.” – Davinia James–Stewart.
Davinia James-Stewart was born in St. Mary, Jamaica and partially grew up in Trelawny and later Kingston where she was reunited with her mother at age 11. Her mother passed of breast cancer in 2006 and five years following, she participated in the walk to fight the disease in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer which she thought was a way to keep her mother alive in her heart. Since then she has represented her mother by virtue of her speeches and participation in the annual walks.
“I wanted to give up on everything, but then my mom’s dream was for me to graduate high school, something she had never done, something no one in my family had ever done and so I graduated high school in 2002 and then two years after that, I was reunited with my mom in the United States.” – Davinia James–Stewart.
James completed high school in 2002 after which she migrated to live with her mother in the United States to attend college. She was the first one in her family to be awarded further education, graduating from secondary and tertiary schools with the help of her adoptive mother and father, the Naddelmans, (upon the passing of her biological mother), who gave her unconditional support and encouragement throughout her years. They ensured that she received everything that would give her freedom in this unforgiving and constantly changing world – her education – which is her biggest achievement yet. She failed to let the traumatic events of growing up poverty-stricken, and the circumstances of her childhood deter her from succeeding.
“Education is a way of life. It’s freedom. Education emboldens us to shatter glass ceilings, to test limits, and to become the agents of change our world so sorely needs.” – Davinia James-Stewart.
James was chosen to become an ambassador for Girl Rising, a global campaign that focuses on unprivileged girls within developing countries. Girls in developing countries are considered inadequate, as boys are encouraged to go to school and get jobs, and girls should stay home and tend to the household and children. Girls should not be raped, denied an education, enslaved, neglected, forced into marriage or childbirth. As a Girl Rising ambassador, the onus is on Davinia to, therefore, advocate for the sixty-six million girls globally.
“It struck a nerve because I could relate to these nine girls in different developing countries who should never have had to go through being sold, raped, slavery and all that stuff. It stuck with me, and I left there thinking, what I can do because I know what it is like to be surrounded by violence and poverty.
Upon her graduation, she started looking for ways in which she could become a woman of change. Davinia, in turn, has provided girls everywhere the opportunity to be granted quality education through her PenniesForGirls, in turn giving back the love and support she received when she was their age.
“At the age of 25, I finally was able to listen closely enough to figure out what my heart was trying to tell me: that I had been put on this earth to help educate the millions of girls worldwide who do not have access to school… Pennies 4 Girls harnessed the power of the lowly penny. Pennies may seem insignificant—annoying even—but when collected they have power.” – Davinia James–Stewart.
At twenty-eight, she decided to focus on raising funds for girls through her Pennies4Girls which is an initiative that educates girls through the accumulation of pennies that contribute to their tuition. Her goal was $28,000 USD to assist with sending 560 girls to school. Pennies4Girls know the worth of each and every girl in every geolocation and the organization finds it heartbreaking how some are treated in parts of the world; through Girl Rising, $50 USD can help to send one girl to school for a year. The Pennies4Girls organization aims to give quality education by using something small and of little value to create meaningful change. Over the years, they have collaborated with the Hope and Dreams Initiative and WASH libraries to provide necessities to girls in Nigeria. Their project spans helping girls in Ethiopia, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Peru, Cambodia, Peru, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and Haiti. Davinia’s life’s mission is to reach girls globally to fund their education through her project.
“Working together can make the impossible seem possible. This, truly, is the definition of a global citizen: someone with the passion, creativity, and integrity to dream big, and follow through on those dreams.” – Davinia James-Stewart.
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals would need to be addressed strategically and as a Global Citizen, she plans to work with her tribe to endure that world leaders hold to their commitments.
“Not surprisingly, education is one of the most important sustainable development goals. When governments provide investment programs focused on education, they improve almost every aspect of society. Living standards improve and workforces grow and countries become economically stable.” – Mrs. Davinia James-Stewart.
As a Global Citizen Youth Advocate, she used the 1.5 million pennies ($15,000 USD) she has collected over the years for girls’ education which summed to tuition for over 300 girls in several developing countries. She found her calling to become a Global Citizen since she believed her story could be used as a platform to positively impact the world and since education transformed her life, she wanted to extend the courtesy to others.
“When I first started the #Pennies4Girls Project it was because I saw a problem (lack of education for girls) and I wanted to solve it. I’ve been told I was crazy to think I could change the world and up to this very day, I would like to disagree. As far as I see it, I want to do something, and nothing or no one was going to stop my dreams of educating all girls worldwide. When I started, I started with a handful of pennies. Now, I have used 1.5 million.” – Davinia James-Stewart.
“This Valentine’s Day we are hoping to raise enough pennies to send 128 more girls to school in Afghanistan by requesting that all funds for our personal wedding registry be put towards charity… Opening your heart to someone else is a remarkable feeling.” – Davinia James-Stewart.
She still has a long way to go, as an estimated 130 million girls around the world are unschooled according to UNESCO. However, if she wants to contribute in any way to the end of poverty in 2030, she believes that the world needs to provide access to quality education, especially to girls within underserved communities worldwide.
“My goals are: to never stop learning, growing and being better than I was yesterday; to keep testing limits and shatter glass ceilings; to have a platform that drives girl power to the fullest and finally to educate all girls worldwide. Being ‘a thirty under thirty’, I am being given the opportunity to empower, enlighten, inspire and encourage now. I get to show the next generation that it is okay to embrace what is in your heart and do your own thing to create change. I say go make your mark, you are paint, the world is your canvas, go ahead and create your masterpiece.” – Davinina James–Stewart.
When Davinia is not achieving her goals for advocacy, she travels the world learning new things about people and their culture. She has a passion to fight for girls who cannot fight for themselves and are unable to make their own life decisions. She strives to show the world that every girl is a revolution and a force to be reckoned with. She has learned from her homeland that ‘out of many, one people’ and this ideal is one which she lives by in order to make a lasting impact on the world, one penny and one girl at a time.
By Alexandra Daley