Women Leading Through 'Small Steps' and 'Great Leaps'

Women Leading Through ‘Small Steps’ and ‘Great Leaps’

What do a teacher from Japan, a translator from Algeria and a humanitarian from Australia all have in common? They came together to speak at UCF on Tuesday about their experiences as women reaching out to touch the world.

International humanitarian Alison Thompson, along with Fulbright foreign language teaching assistants, Bahia Braktia from Algeria and Ayumi Yamamoto from Japan, made presentations. Maria Cristina Santana, director of UCF’s Women’s Studies Program, moderated the forum.

The event, which was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, was the sixth annual forum on Women and Leadership: A Global Perspective. More than 100 people heard how each of these women has grown as a leader through service to others.  

Yamamoto attributed her growth as a teacher and leader to a trip to Cambodia, where she saw many children who did not have the access or the ability to attend school. In Japan, where she was an English teacher, Yamamoto felt her students did not seem to care about their education. When she shared the story about Cambodia with her Japanese students, however, Yamamoto said she saw a change in them and their study habits. It was that point that she realized how a teacher’s rich experiences could broaden students’ horizons.

Braktia described her experience with breaking down barriers for herself and others like her as a testament to leadership. She suggested that despite women’s active role in achieving Algeria’s independence half a century ago, they are often regarded as “too fragile to take care of themselves.”

After initially encountering resistance from certain family members who doubted her ability to succeed as a teacher in her third language, English, Braktia described how circumstances have changed, including a request from her brother to help a friend with her own Fulbright application. At that moment, Braktia said, she realized that her journey was inspiring others to take the initiative.

Unlike Yamamoto and Braktia, who both mentioned that they did not consider themselves leaders until they saw the effects they were having on others, Thompson suggested that being a leader sometimes requires simply stepping up when no one else does.

“It’s being in the wrong place at the right time,” she said, as she reflected on helping treat wounds and provide relief at ground zero in New York City on September 11, 2001. Thompson stressed that anyone can take that first step, suggesting that “you don’t need a master’s degree to hand out water or hold someone’s hand.”

Drawing parallels between her aid work at the World Trade Center, in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, and in Haiti after that country suffered an earthquake in 2010, Thompson marveled that “people find themselves when they volunteer.” She mentioned in her book, “The Third Wave,” that “saving lives used to be the turf of superheroes and comic strip characters, but now we know that anyone can do it.”

Thompson said the key to reaching out is to start small and do what makes sense. She urged the audience to put their thoughts into action, and action into improvement.

“Dare to reinvent the world,” she said, “because the future, more than ever, needs your help.”

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners included Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jay Garner, UCF Student Government Association, UCF Women’s Studies Program, UCF Center for Success of Women Faculty, UCF Burnett Honors College, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, UCF Political Science Department, UCF LIFE, UCF Book Festival 2013 in Association with the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Global Connections Foundation.