On Wednesday, October 14th, while most children were taking advantage of the warmer than usual temperatures by playing outside, approximately fifteen boys and girls were inside the Upper Devotion Library on Boylston Street participating in a read-a-thon to raise money for the Malala Fund. When the last page was read and the final book was closed, more than $1,000 was raised through reading pledges, individual contributions, and a baked goods sale to help provide access to education for girls living in poverty or areas where war and religious extremism is rampant.
Lilah Sesling, a 7th grade student at the Devotion School, was the mastermind behind this read-a-thon fundraiser. A civic-minded young woman by nature, Lilah has shown great interest over the past several years in issues relating to human rights; believing strongly that all people regardless of their backgrounds should be treated equally and receive equal benefits and access to services. Last year for her social studies class, she did an in-depth analysis of LGBT rights around the world and ended up presenting her findings to the upper grades at Devotion School. In her science class, she also looked at gender stereotypes; specifically studying the ages at which many of these stereotypes start taking hold.
Over this past summer, Lilah began thinking about what type of community service project she wanted to do for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah this fall. “I was not shocked at all when Lilah came to me and said she wanted to do something in support of girl’s education. She had read Malala Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala, and was inspired by her story. This is the type of issue that is right up Lilah’s alley,” says Cori Taitz, Lilah’s mother.
The mother-daughter duo began the process of making Lilah’s vision a reality by teaming up with Girls Read for Girls, a non-profit started in Brooklyn, NY which aims to raise awareness of gender equality issues, generate funds in support of efforts to empower girls through education, and encourage young people to make a change in their communities. The non-profit was inspired by the story of Malala Yousafzai and raises funds for her initiative, the Malala Fund.
After finalizing a date and location for the read-a-thon, Lilah worked to promote the event largely by handing out fliers throughout the Devotion School community. Participants were asked to determine a reading goal for the ninety minute read-a-thon and then asked to rally supporters to make a per-page pledge or a one-time contribution. Girls Read for Girls helped supply Lilah with sample pledge sheets, as well as sample email solicitation language to give to participants. Supporters could also go online to make credit card donations and learn more about the initiative and the inspiration behind it.
Given the success of this year’s event, Lilah and her mother hope to make it an annual happening in the Brookline community. “It is a great way to get boys and girls of all ages not only reading, but gaining awareness of the fact that not all children have access to the types of school and teachers that they do here in Brookline. It is always good for children to learn to never take for granted all that they have,” says Cori Taitz.
Lilah Sesling is one young woman who certainly appreciates the educational opportunities that living in Brookline affords her. Through her studies and actions, including this recent read-a-thon, Lilah is also living up to what becoming Bat Mitzvah means in the Jewish faith. She is taking responsibility for her own actions and working to promote positive change in her community.
When she grows up, Lilah hopes to become a human rights attorney. The maturity, determination, and compassion that she has shown already at such a young age will prove invaluable as she works towards achieving this career goal. Lila Sesling has already made a name for herself here in Brookline and is primed to leave her mark on the world.
~ Casey Hassenstein