Let me just start with the fact that I never, ever, thought that I would be designing backpacks. All I knew was that I wanted to dedicate my life doing something that made the world a better place.
I wanted to be a truth seeker. Find the truth. Tell that truth. Then share it with the world. Where does a truth-seeking 18-year-old go? Journalism school! I pursued a degree in Journalism at the University of San Francisco. Storytelling immediately became my biggest passion. It wasn’t until October 9th, 2012 while I sat in my Journalism Ethics class, I knew how important that would be to me.
That day, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for going to school. My professor came in that morning and put on the news. She looked at us with tears streaming down her face and said, “The truth matters.”
To say that Malala’s story impacted me is a downplay. Her story inspired me to dedicate my entire life to storytelling and girls education.
After I graduated college I landed a job at a media company, packed my bags in San Francisco and moved across the country to New York City. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my big career move wasn’t for me. I was miserable working at a desk 9-5 feeling as if my passions and creativity were drifting away. All I knew was that I was never going to find my dream at a desk job. So I quit.
I spent two years trying to figure out my career path. Was it graduate school for Journalism? A writing job at a reputable news outlet? A freelancing gig? I knew my passions but not what I wanted to do with them.
I needed to do some serious soul searching. How you might ask? I left my office job and became a barista at the coolest coffee shop in the city (s/o Pushcart Coffee) and nanny for the coolest kid I know in the Upper West Side. I saved enough money after a year of work to put my entire life in a backpack and headed to Uganda.
Still unsure of what my career path may be I still knew I wanted to dedicate my life to girls education.
Here I was in a special little town called Mbale. I always dreamed of the red dirt roads and the beautiful green mountains in Uganda. The sound of boda boda drivers and the smell of rolex’s brought me so much excitement to get out of bed and explore.
One morning I walked out of my apartment and saw hundreds of students in uniforms walking proudly to the local primary school, balancing books on their heads.
Of course, my immediate reaction was, “These kids should have backpacks – just like students in America do!”
It was at that moment the idea hit me. I need to make backpacks for these kids! I will sell a backpack in the United States and give a backpack to a child in need.
Excited about my idea, I ran home to tell my housemate who appreciated my enthusiasm but told me the harsh reality:
Roughly 80% of these students will not make it to secondary school.
That was unacceptable to me. These students didn’t need backpacks. What good is a backpack if kids don’t have access to education? The struggle wasn’t carrying books. It is a plethora of issues: child labor, early marriages, lack of sanitary pads, transportation, disability…the list goes on. However, the universal challenge is poverty.
This changed my original idea to give free backpacks to kids to using the backpack as a symbol of education.
Something that will advocate for education, create jobs that lift people out of poverty and empower children across the globe.
A backpack isn’t just a thing to carry stuff in. It means so much more.
Coming back to New York in 2016, I returned to my coffee shop job and continued nannying. Starting ACE has been a constant work in progress, but I’m doing exactly what I’ve felt destined to do. A seed was planted in my heart that day I saw those kids walking to school in Uganda. It’s been a wild journey watering that seed every day. This is where the story of ACE began.