Making the world better, one girl at a time. In my job there’s no room to judge,” says Sameen Noorulamin, and that’s how this role model, a young woman of 23, lives her life. She began as a guide with Smart-Girl while a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School, took leadership training with that organization and now is program director for Smart-Girl. If a phrase could describe Sameen, it would be the very words SmartGirl. Other phrases would work, too. How about CompassionateGirl or PositiveGirl? At the end of the day, the term Role Model works very well to define this young woman who is committed to young girls and helping them develop and maintain positive self-images. The curriculum of Smart-Girl shows girls how to be themselves, how to be safe actually being themselves. It has become apparent to Sameen that after the fifth grade, young women start to engage in negative self-talk. Such talk can result in undesirable decisions and negative behaviors. It is this very destructive behavior that led to the establishment of Smart-Girl. “The idea is to stop these behaviors,” Sameen says. “But we are not there to preach or teach them right from wrong. We are there to teach them to make good decisions.” She explains, “I realize the negative power of judgments and how the stereotypes we create make us crumble as a society. I have spent the last two years making the judgments (in my thinking) go away.” The absence of judgments helps Sameen in her capacity in the hiring she does for Smart-Girl. She works with a wide range of women and men in their capacity as volunteers or professionals who, in turn, work with the girls of Smart-Girl.
As an example, Sameen recently met with a 14-year-old who said she wanted to have a baby. Sameen took the girl aside and made a list of the pros and cons of having a baby — such points as what the actual cost of feeding a baby is and what the basics of taking care of a baby cost. The girl’s world was so small and constricted that she had not thought beyond the idea that having a baby would be momentarily satisfying to her. Smart-Girl’s role is to give girls the tools to make decisions. Helping the 14-year-old think through the responsibilities of having a baby to care for was the first piece of information that Sameen provided. She then asked the girl to hang onto the list. When Sameen met with her a month later, the girl was not pregnant. “It helped her postpone an unhealthy decision. I know I can’t change her life. But what I can do is to help her learn more about thinking before acting,” says Sameen. A supportive family that includes her father, Rashid Noorulamin, and mother, Noveen, has given Sameen both a positive self-image and a nurturing environment in which to grow. Her two sisters are Meher, who is 12, and Navish, 26. Meher will go through Smart-Girl training. Sameen knows how much she personally has benefited from Smart-Girl and is enthusiastic about her sister taking part.
The modeling of her grandparents’ behavior has also been a major contributor to Sameen’s character. Her paternal grandfather, Rashid, and grandmother, Safia, lived with her family and were influential in the lives of the three granddaughters. “They always said have a strong conviction in yourself, but do not use it to judge others,” Sameen says. The lessons learned in the family setting augmented what she learned in Smart-Girl. As a role model, Sameen and other Smart-Girl teachers help girls feel safe and trusting so they can feel secure as they talk in the Smart-Girl setting. Volunteers and employees are instructed to maintain confidentiality. It is a key ingredient in helping the girls achieve the confidence they need to share their thoughts. “We don’t gossip. We do know that women can be catty and gossipy. But since we know it does not do anyone any good, we avoid it. We work as a team. In sharing experiences with other girls, the girls who go to Smart-Girl learn how to support each other,” she says.
Sameen does not describe herself as a girl who would have been a client of Smart-Girl. She was a tomboy while in middle school and didn’t experience the negative self-talk she sees. “I didn’t go through any of this,” she says, “but my 12-year-old sister is, and I know it really does happen.”
Sameen NoorulaminIn working with girls, Sameen does not provide the answers, but helps girls find them. One pattern she sees often is the girl who is left out by the others in the group — the “odd girl out” syndrome. She says such action was typified in the movie Mean Girls, which showed how cruel girls can be toward each other. She was able to avoid much of this anxiety by playing sports in the seventh and eighth grades and thus enjoyed middle school “as a very positive experience.” The power of positive peer support led her to focus on sports and grow in healthy ways. Smart-Girl began as an online survey in 1996, when girls were asked if they’d like a Web site just for them and what kind of content they’d like. The developer of the site found sponsors with products that young girls could help design. Eventually, Smart-Girl was given a home at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. The site offers a whole host of resources that range from health and hobbies to career and school information. The comprehensive library of information provides extensive assistance for girls.
“The opportunities I’ve had with Smart-Girl have been so great. Seeing people who have so much faith in you is incredible. They put so much faith in you. I love my job,” Sameen says. “I am so happy every single day withwhat I do,” says this lovely woman born in Pakistan. Calling her parents “my heroes,” she says, “They have worked so hard since coming here. They opened a business in Sterling and decided to stay in America. They operate a child care center.” They’re located in the metro area now.
Sameen believes the United States is “the best country in the world. Here, you can move out of your situation, make it what you want.” She says she is very grateful to her parents and for the time they spend as a family. They enjoy spending time in the mountains, especially at Lake Dillon and Breckenridge “We spend so much time together. It’s very cultural. We grew up with our grandparents. (Her grandfather died one year ago, and her grandmother continues to live with the family.) That level of respect (for grandparents) is not common here. It is definitely a conflict for me culturally. Watching my parents — they put people before business. They run the business together and have done so for four years. They care about people, and it is really a smart investment. Watching my parents really value their employees is important to me,” Sameen says. Sameen will expand her personal life when she marries next year. She is engaged to a young man who has converted to Islam, her religious faith. Jeremy is a Marine who will be deployed to Iraq in September. Together, Sameen and Jeremy like movies and spending time in the mountains.
This year, Sameen managed 13 people. She likes to have people who can effect positive change, a fundamental asset of the best role model. People who have a broader view bring out the best in other people. She is thinking of the best role model being a person who has a concern about community, a realization that the world can be a better place. She talks about the lack of a “social contract” being so limiting, the lack of recognition that other communities have needs.
By SHARON ALMIRALL
Photography KIT WILLIAMS