This talk was never given at the 2018 Gaia Gala because we ran out of time. It is now available here for your reading pleasure. (-:

In our Rite of Passage program we have a group challenge that centers around the Russian story of the young girl Vasalisa and Baba Yaga, the witch of the forest. It is their task to enter the unknown forest, find Baba Yaga, bring her offerings, and return to their village with a torch lit from Baba Yaga’s fire to warm their people. This experience then leads them towards their personal culminating challenge where each girl does an overnight solo in the natural world where they create and tend their own fire.

We can’t walk through the unknown forest for our children, but we can offer them the skills and tools they will need to navigate. Our contemporary girls and female identified youth have to be prepared to interface with modern goblins in their unknown forest… Some of the most powerful predators in our world are corporations who intentionally promote beauty standards that are not realistic of the diversity of our girls, and promote the idea that we do not have intrinsic worth, so that we actually believe that if we buy their product we will finally feel whole. Teens are spending an average of nine hours on entertainment media per day absorbing these messages. So, we need an extremely POWERFUL antidote to this messaging. Who better to mentor our girls in the skills of inner and outer resilience and sustainability than the master teacher herself, Mother Earth, who has been here and thrived in all of her beauty and diversity for way longer than us humans.

I consider hearth and sacred fires to be the ancient form of entertainment media. Around our fires, Gaia Girls (and Aunties) bravely name ways in which these external voices have become their own internal voices, and offer their negative self talk, like “I’m to___ or I’m not ___ enough” to the fire of transformation. Then, we look to the natural world for what really defines beauty, belonging, and worth. What we are doing is simple and normal as far as what our ancestors knew, but profound and (I think) literally world saving for today’s predicament. In 2017, Project Drawdown offered the most comprehensive study of solutions for global climate change to date. Of 100 solutions, educating girls was ranked sixth in importance. Imagine if our next generation of girls grows up knowing in their bones that there is something more real, and much more ancient to source their inner truth from. Imagine a world where people know the value of protecting and tending Gaia’s precious resources, rather than using them for personal gain. Imagine a world of people who know their own intrinsic value, and therefore do not have to steal from others or consume endlessly to gain it. This is the world I imagine for future generations.

I whole-heartedly believe that supporting our young people with as much gusto as possible now is directly connected to the viability of the continuation of human life on Earth. This would have sounded dramatic even a few years ago, but my guess is that everyone reading this feels, on some level, the very real precipice we are standing on today.

This year and into the future of Gaia Girls, we are committed to increasing our ability to be welcoming, aware, and inclusive. This year we offered over $30,000 in scholarships and continued our free program for West Oakland traditionally underserved girls. And as Gaia Girls Execute Director, I deepened my own studies of how the environmental, nature based and feminist movements have been biased towards white folks. Our board of directors and staff are committed to being a part of reconstructing that nature connection is for all people, and that if we are feminist, we must also work to heal all forms of oppression and “othering” including race, class, ability, gender, and sexuality. Within that we welcome and have within our programs those who are gender questioning, bending, reinventing, and expanding.

Thank you to everyone who supports this critical work for our girls, female identified youth and for our planet, to help bring resources and good vibes to a place of great need. Thank you to our Amazing Aunties who are with the girls every day, who give so much of themselves to serve our participants. I’m beyond grateful for our powerful and thoughtful Board of Directors. I want to give a special shout out out to Melanie Robins, Amanda Brunato, and Sarah Bearman (all moms of girls), and Alisa Healy (program manager), who worked their tooshies off to make the Gaia Gala happen! And a big thank you to the 25 volunteers that made this even possible!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support, our future planet thanks you.

~ Sarai Shapiro