Fight for social justice starts at a young age

Rishona Altenberg works on letters for her fundraiser, a screening of the film Girl Rising.

TORONTO — Rishona Altenberg is only 10 years old, but she is already working to spread a message about girls’ right to education and human rights around the world.

She’s planning her first social justice event in the form of a screening in Toronto of Girl Rising, a film directed by Academy Award-nominee Richard Robbins, at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre Feb. 20 – coinciding with World Day of Social Justice.

The film tells the story of nine girls who share with the viewer their struggles to overcome the obstacles in the way of their education and human rights.

“These issues are very important to me,” Rishona said. “I think all children, including girls, deserve the right to an education.”

The girls featured in the movie span the globe, coming from countries including Nepal, Haiti, Ethiopia and other places. It features narration by Hollywood legends like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Liam Neeson.

The money Rishona raises through ticket sales will be split between two organizations: Room to Read, which works with communities in Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills in primary school children and encourage secondary education for girls, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which seeks to help women and girls in Canada move out of violence and poverty.

She chose the two groups because the first focuses on girls around the world while the second focuses on issues for women and girls within Canada, she said.

Although it may seem unusual for someone her age to be so active in social justice issues, she said her friends are also interested in working for this kind of change. She described how some of them baked macaroons with her, which they then sold in farmers’ markets as a fundraiser.

She did receive some help from her parents in setting up the movie screening, but she said she did a lot of the work herself, and she was surprised that it was easier than she had expected. Many people were willing to help her spread the message about girls’ right to education, she found.

“It’s definitely been not as hard as it could have been,” she said.

Rishona said the screening could be a step toward her becoming even more of a social justice activist.

“From a very young age, I have been very passionate about justice and fairness, and I’ve wanted to do something to make a change,” she said.

She said she hopes her passion will spread to the audience.

“I’m hoping it will make them want to make changes,” she said. “I hope they will learn about these issues if they don’t know about them already. I hope they will be inspired by it.”

Girl Rising, which is rated PG, will be screened at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit