In November 2012, at a TEDx event in Alsace, France, a woman stepped up on stage to give a talk about her life-changing experience: “We Like the World”. With a trembling yet strong voice, sometimes strangled with emotion, she told the story of how she had had to fight terribly hard to have one baby – and, later, to accept that she would not be able to have a second one. This woman’s name is Estelle Colas. She is a publicist, she has a husband, Frédéric, and a daughter, Héloïse, and together they decided to turn their struggles and their negative emotions into a new life project. They wanted to make it a project that was “super enjoyable” for them, and “super useful” for others. And so the idea of “We Like the World”, a project dedicated to girls, education and a better future, was born.
Turning an ordeal into a cause
Frédéric explains that they wanted to serve a cause, and that it was by watching a TED talk that they became aware of the absolute importance of girls’ education in the development of a country. The family thus decided to design a collaborative project to build a school in a region where girls lack access to education; in this case Burkina Faso. The idea they came up with is very simple, which is maybe why it worked so well: Frédéric, Estelle and Héloïse embarked on a world tour “powered by Facebook”. Thanks to their network of friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends (and to a Facebook page that now has over 10,000 fans), they travelled around the world, staying overnight with people from their network, some of whom they had never met before. Whenever they did not have to spend the night at a hotel, they saved their hotel money to fund the construction of the Burkinabe school, which happened right during their trip. Frédéric, Estelle and Héloïse travelled between July 2011 and June 2012. They stayed with 52 different families, for a total of 209 nights, in 17 countries on 5 continents.
On top of their own personal savings, and thanks to the contributions of their friends, families and sponsors, they raised a total of €78,000. In June 2012, they were in Burkina Faso for the opening of the school, which now has 200 pupils: the first school year started there last October.
In her TEDx talk, Estelle explained that “We Like the World” had helped her turn her battle for her own little girl into a battle for the young girls of the world. Her husband says that the project was not a mere break in their lives, but the start of something else, something new, which will keep on going. In April 2013, a second edition of “We Like the World” will take Irene Meister, a friend of the couple – and a Danone employee! – around the world for a seven-month solidarity tour. This time, the money collected will help fund schooling for young girls in Angkor, Cambodia, where the school system has been profoundly damaged in the aftermath of the genocide. Frédéric explains that each night “saved” will fund two months of education for a young girl: the project focuses on girls aged 11 and over, because it is precisely at that age that parents choose to take them out of school and send them to sell postcards and souvenirs to the tourists. If they are able to complete their education, Frédéric says, these girls will be able to find qualified jobs earning good salaries, maybe in the tourism industry. (If you would like to help Irene and her project, please connect her with your friends through this page!)
Who knows, maybe this first adaptation of “We Like the World” will inspire others in the future? In the meantime, Frédéric says
one of the main things he learned from the project is to “never underestimate the inspirational power of your actions”:
one of the families with whom they stayed helped refurbish a school in Burma, another participated in the creation of a library for underprivileged children in New Delhi, and another set up a “fundraising race” in San Francisco with 400 school children which helped raise $800 for “We Like the World”. At down to Earth, we find the project inspiring because it demonstrates the power of social networks, and how technology can help accelerate projects that would be much more difficult to build without them. It is also proof that, when it comes to facing the challenges of the world – and girls’ and women’s empowerment is a major one – there are a myriad of solutions, and each person can find and even define the solution that suits them best. In the case of the Colas family, this project helped fulfil a real need in their lives. When committing makes you happy, it can become a really powerful thing. Let’s hope this story inspires others to find their own ways to deal with their hurt – and their desire to make a difference.
(Photo from http://weliketheworld.com)