Despite death threats, she's still teaching. And a global online community has her back.
True
Facebook #SheMeansBusiness

Sister Zeph remembers the moments that changed the course of her life.

For nearly 20 years, she has been a teacher running a school for girls in Pakistan, but she recalls the day that started a chain reaction for her.

When she was 13 years old, she gave a speech in class, but dared to sit in her teacher's chair.


"When the teacher came she started beating me ... in front of my classmates. She abused me and all the girls made fun of me. I was just crying and crying. I did not talk to anyone for days," she told Upworthy.

It turned out to be a pivotal moment for her.

"I decided to surprise everyone. I decided to do something that nobody expected. At that moment I decided to leave school and to become a teacher myself ... to make a school of my own.

In the beginning no one trusted me. No one was ready to join my school because I was just 13 years old. But I kept going, I did not want any child to experience what had happened to me."

20 years later, Sister Zeph remains the founder of Zephaniah Free Education, a school in rural Punjab, Pakistan.

The school serves 200 students seven days a week — amid threats and resistance — in a building that's only 12 feet by 15 feet.

Students in class at Zephaniah Free Education. All images from Zephaniah Women Education and Empowerment Foundation, used with permission.

In the Gujranwala region of Pakistan, where the school is located, only about half of women over the age of 10 can read.

Sister Zeph wants more people to understand this and other everyday realities for women in her region in Pakistan.

A photo of Sister Zeph's students!

In an email to Upworthy, Sister Zeph lists the jarring, and often unspoken, confines of being a woman in her area of the world.

"People do not know that they cannot laugh without permission, cannot speak loud, they cannot sing a song, they cannot have a dream in life, cannot wear clothes of own choice, cannot raise a question, cannot do a job ... their purpose of life is only to serve the husband, to produce children and to [run a] household."

Sister Zeph helps create opportunities for girls and women through education. Technology and online communications are a large part of that.

By educating women and showing them the opportunities that life has to offer, Sister Zeph hopes to change these circumstances.

"My calling is to empower each and every woman on this earth and to make them feel that they are not a property of men they are complete human beings equal to men," she said.

Pretty great mission, huh?

Well, not according to everyone. Sister Zeph and her students have met with opposition — and even threats — every step of the way. Sister Zeph's home was even attacked with guns in 2006 and 2013.

In addition to traditional school curriculum, Sister Zeph's school also teaches (and values) art!

Sister Zeph had been teaching for 13 years, keeping her head down and her school open, when she started using Facebook.

When she was able to access an online community, the obstacles didn't lessen, but the opportunities, support, and love increased exponentially ... and inspirationally. She told Upworthy of the transition from hopeless perseverance to determined tenacity.

"I had been teaching in open air for about 13 years. I was alone, there was no support, no help, and no hope. I was attacked by gunmen in 2006 but there was no notice of this thing, but then I joined Facebook. I started posting our activity on daily basis. I was admired from around the world. I was given financial and moral support."

Students with their artwork.

By sharing her story, her ups and her downs, Sister Zeph found a global community. Online, she also discovered World Pulse, a social networking platform connecting women worldwide for change. World Pulse's training, combined with Facebook's access, multiplied the outpouring of love from the online community around the world almost miraculously.

"I must say that Facebook is a most powerful tool to make a change in the world; my life is its proof," she added.

In the classroom.

Sister Zeph's story is so inspiring and so simple. Her example shows that so much is possible, even if you're 13, with no experience — just a lot of grit.

Here's hoping that her school creates an entire generation of strong leaders for her region, for Pakistan, and for the world. In her words:

"Education is a light and illiteracy is a darkness. And darkness cannot face the light, you know."

Students of Sister Zeph's students are models of strength!

Pexels
True
Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Anderson Cooper has interviewed hundreds of people, from top celebrities to heads of state to people on the street. He is fairly unflappable when it comes to chatting with a guest, which is what makes his reaction while interviewing inaugural poet Amanda Gorman all the more delightful.

Gorman stole the show at President Biden's Inauguration with a powerful performance of her original poem, "The Hill We Climb." People were blown away by both her words and her poise in delivering them, especially considering the fact that she's only 22 years old. But it's one thing to be able to write and recite well, and another to be able to impress in an off-the-cuff conversation—and Gorman proved in her interview on Anderson Cooper 360 that she can do both at a level most of us can only dream of.

In the interview, Gorman explained how she dove into research to prepare her poem to fit the occasion, and then how that work was disrupted by the attack on the Capitol.

"I'm not going to say that that completely derailed the poem, because I was not surprised at what had happened," she said. "I had seen the signs and the symptoms for a while, and I was not trying to turn a blind eye to that. But what it did is it energized me even more, to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope and unity and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear."

After explaining how she used tweets and articles and messages about the Capitol insurrection to hone parts of her poem, she shared thoughts on reclaiming the power of words.

Keep Reading Show less
True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.