"Creating social change, one step at a time" This GL girl tells her story
Sofie Roux, 16, was only in pre-K when she decided she wanted to help girls in South Africa get the best education possible. Her's how she made her big dreams real—and how you can dream outside the box, too.
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING that post-2020 life can feel extremely overwhelming—especially if you want to help but don't know how. There are so many problems in the world, it's hard to figure out how to jump in.
Hi, I'm Sofie, a regular kid who started a small fundraiser for girls education in Cape Town, South Africa. Eleven years later, it’s grown into a social enterprise bigger than I ever dreamed.
It all began when I traveled to South Africa as a kid with my parents, who were doing research at a Cape Town trauma hospital. I noticed firsthand how difficult it was for girls in rural areas to go to school. I saw a huge lack of access for things like clean water, menstrual hygiene and technology in the classroom. Right then and there, I decided to come up with ways to reduce these barriers.
Then I got to work. I wound up raising $50,000 over the course of a decade to set up a computer lab and a sanitary pad-making machine in Khayelitsha, a busy township near Cape Town, and to establish three borehole water wells in Malawi.
And I just raised over $50,000 to fund my most ambitious project to date: BloomBox, a solar-powered off-grid learning lab. Fully fueled by solar panels, it will contain 20 computer stations plus wireless access to amazing learning resources.
Doing all this certainly wasn’t easy, but I took baby steps, listened to my heart, reached out to *a lot* of people for help and never gave up. And if I can do that, I know you can, too.
FIND WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT
When it comes to creating social change, you’re way more likely to stick with something that brings you joy—the trick is to find what, exactly, that is.
Thanks to my travels, my connection to Africa and the people there is deeply personal. And I love, love, love school, especially math and science. Combine that with my passion for art, plus my belief in social justice and making education for girls more accessible, and this was a perfect project for me.
But don’t do what I love—find out how to do what you love. Maybe that’s joining an environmental justice club. Or packing meals for unhoused communities. Or learning a cool new skill (like carpentry, video editing or coding) that you could use to help an organization fulfill its mission. The key to doing the most good is leaning into your talents and connecting them to what you care about.
FIGURE OUT HOW TO START SMALL
Solutions to big problems always happen in really small bites. I launched my first fundraiser when I was 5, after going on a township tour in South Africa.
There, I met so many bright, silly, fun kids who didn’t have the same opportunities as me and my friends, especially at school. I was only in pre-kindergarten, so to raise money, I got my friends together and helped in the best way I could, which at the time involved baking, making accessories and selling them outside school. My community was so supportive, and we raised about $4,000 to build a computer lab for the kids in the township.
Fundraising by selling things you create—whether it’s vegan cookies or poems or hand-sewn face masks—is something small that anyone can do. You never know what it might turn into.
In 2016, I began selling my watercolor art through Sparkly and SmART, an enterprise that I founded to raise money for girls in South Africa and Malawi who have to miss school almost every day because of problems like the water crisis and lack of access to period hygiene products.
The art I make is funny and bright, featuring animals and jokes. I sell it at craft fairs and, so far, we’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars. It definitely didn’t happen overnight, but I stuck with it—and my persistence is now paying off in big ways.
If you’re intimidated or afraid to get your idea off the ground, something that always helps me is to ask questions, even if they sound crazy: questions like, “Why not? Why can’t this be done? Am I really too young to make a difference? How can I help? Can you re-explain or show me that again?
Who else is doing something to help the cause I care about? What’s working for them and what’s not?”
The key is to learn all you can and lean on your community, teachers and friends for knowledge and support. You don’t have to solve any problem by yourself or in a short period of time. In fact, it’s better if you don’t go it alone. There’s strength in numbers and, well, anything’s more fun if you do it with people you trust.
COMBAT THE NAYSAYERS
There will always be those people who say your dreams aren’t possible. My guiding light has always been my family. They’re so supportive and always know how to build me up even when the obstacles I’m up against seem insurmountable.
I think it’s important to identify at least one person in your life, whether it’s your family member, a friend or a mentor, who you can call with questions or even when you just need a pep talk.
And to minimize any negative chatter from strangers, I mostly stay off social (although I do have my Insta @sparkly_ and_smart to highlight my projects).
REMIND YOURSELF OF YOUR PURPOSE
Burnout is real. We’re not machines— we’re human beings. We’re not meant to dedicate all our time and energy to solving problems. So I make sure I have mornings when all I do is make pancakes with my mom then dance around to ’90s hip hop. That way, I can return to my projects, homework or art feeling refreshed.
And when I get stuck on a problem and can’t get out of my head? I go for a run. When I return to my desk, the answer is suddenly clear to me. I promise, it works!
But when things get super tough, I remember how much I love what I’m doing and how it’s an honor to help others—not everyone has the opportunity.
Our ultimate dreams might be far off in the distance, but if you work hard and stay focused, creating the change you want to see is truly possible.
Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that a version of this story originally ran in our February/March 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.