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Being selected as a HERlead Fellow for 2017 was incredibly inspiring. I knew about the amazing work Vital Voices has been doing, and I was so honored to be part of the organization.

I was excited but unsure what my project would be and after talking to other Fellows felt slightly intimidated that they had already accomplished so much. To be honest, I was more than a little awed being surrounded by these amazing women and Fellows who had already created and put their projects into motion. My high school is an extremely competitive environment, and I assumed that HERlead would be similar with everyone competing against each other so their project would “win”. Not only was this not true, but everyone, from other Fellows to speakers, was extremely encouraging and supportive about project ideas. One woman in particular, Maria Pacheco, was incredibly inspiring not only in her story and goals she has achieved, but with the support and feedback she gave to us. Maria told us the story of how she founded Wakami and became my mentor during the HERlead Fellowship. Wakami’s founding principles of empowering underprivileged communities and giving them a voice in their future while generating income to create sustainable economies seems so simple and yet life-changing. I am not exaggerating in stating that her story, her passion and her vision have shaped my future goals and the impact I want to make on the world.

When the HERlead Fellowship ended, I maintained a relationship with Maria and was thrilled to become a brand Ambassador for Wakami. Throughout the summer and school year, I’ve developed a platform through social media, other contacts and my school to expand the Wakami brand. The gorgeous jewelry and other products being made by the villagers are beautiful and truly inspirational, and I feel privileged to be part of this organization. I was featured in an article in my school newspaper and was fortunate that the story generated enough interest to be picked up by a local Washington, D.C. news station which interviewed me for the nightly news broadcast. The reporter has told me the story has generated a lot of interest in Wakami and positive comments about my involvement. I know my involvement in Wakami will continue as I go to college, and I hope to make a significant impact on the communities Wakami is helping.