By Nelson Graves

Individuals can make a difference.

That was the message that Sean Maguire, a former foreign correspondent who now works to improve the lives of girls around the world, had recently for students in a unique effort, organized by Global Online Academy (GOA), to spark change in local communities.

More than 300 students from 60 schools in 10 countries participated in GOA’s Catalyst Conference, leveraging architecture, game theory, neuropsychology and other subjects in projects designed to promote positive change in their communities.

Maguire, who worked as a Reuters correspondent before shifting into not-for-profit advocacy, delivered the conference keynote speech on News-Decoder’s webinar platform. Born in Scotland, Maguire is a director at Plan International, an NGO that works in dozens of countries across Africa, the Americas and Asia to promote the safeguarding of children.

In his remarks to students, Maguire told of his experiences covering the Bosnian war in the 1990s and working in Sierra Leone in West Africa, where Plan International is promoting the education of girls.

Students at the Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, South Carolina, asked questions of Maguire during the broadcast.

Maguire said Bosnian Serbs besieged the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, for years while foreign governments refused to intervene. Journalism mattered, he said, because it meant governments could not ignore the siege, the ethnic cleansing, the military aggression and the slaughter.

“We refused our governments’ attempts to airbrush Bosnia out of the news,” he said.

“You can make a difference.”

What did he learn from the experience? That campaigns can achieve change, that injustice is not inevitable and that solidarity matters. “Lastly, the big lesson for me was that individuals can make a difference,” he said.

The London-based former foreign correspondent then told of Plan International’s work in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, where 40 percent of girls are married before they are 18.

“Sierra Leone is one of the hardest places in the world where you can try to achieve gender equality,” Maguire said.

“Despite that, girls are desperate, absolutely desperate, to stay in education because they know that if they can stay in education, it is their best and possibly only way out of poverty and their best way of avoiding marriage to an older and often violent man.”

Maguire’s advice for the students? “Why would you not be one of the people to change the lives of people around you?” he asked. “You can make a difference in some way. Don’t be afraid to get involved. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Don’t be afraid to be curious, and don’t be afraid to take the lead. I hope the one regret you can avoid is to regret that you didn’t try.”

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WomenGirls’ rights advocate urges youth to “make a difference”
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