Tonic named Circle of Women founders—Clotilde Dedecker, Cristina Ros, and Britt Caputo—as #13 in their list of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. May 7, 2009

From Tonic:

“13. Clotilde Dedecker, Cristina Ros & Britt Caputo — Circle of Women

After Sept. 11, Clotilde Dedecker (pictured at right), had a unique take on the media’s portrayal of world events. “To me it was more of a holistic picture. At the end of the day, people are people are people. People essentially want the same things. They want to be safe, they want a roof over their head, they want to be fed, they want to feel as though they are valuable in some sort of capacity. It really struck a chord in my heart seeing media images of women in Afghanistan. To me, there was something seriously wrong or a puzzle piece that was missing, in a society where women have no value whatsoever,” says Dedecker.

The then-high school sophomore, formed a coalition of all girls’ high schools in the area with the common goal of raising funds for reconstructing all girls’ schools in Afghanistan. Her efforts were successful and she continued her work through graduation. Shortly after arriving at Harvard however, the young philanthropist caught a mild case of the “freshman blues” and couldn’t help but think it might have something to do with the absence of the charity work she’d grown to love.

“I wanted to get back to some of the similar work I’d done in high school. Because it had made such an impact in my life and had resulted in giving hundreds of girls access to the classroom. And it was very meaningful to me in terms of giving back.” Clotilde then met upperclassmen Britt Caputo and Cristina Ros and shared her story with them. Caputo and Ros were impressed with the idea and felt strongly that they could do something with it on campus.

The trio quickly began rallying support for their new organization, Circle of Women and its two-pronged mission: To raise awareness regarding the plight of women’s access to education and its critical importance in developing nations, and to build fund-raising efforts to materialize these awareness campaigns and produce results. Unfortunately however, they soon learned that such significant fundraising on the property of another 501(c) 3, the other nonprofit of course, being Harvard. But the girls carried on and successfully applied for their own 501(c) 3.

They hit the ground running, establishing Circle of Women as a viable nonprofit and launching the plan for Project Wonkhai, a secondary all girl’s school in Wonkhai village in Afghanistan. “We found several in-country partners and decided we would be responsible for fund-raising on behalf of the school construction and then sustain the school for several years after construction is complete.” Circle of Women raised $130,000 and construction was completed at the end of December 2008.

Class is almost in session. “Now we’re working on implementing the sustainability plan of the school. The school is recognized by the Afghanistan ministry of education, which means that theoretically they’re responsible for providing textbooks, teachers’ salaries — everything a public school here might get. But given the state of Afghanistan right now, it doesn’t happen as perfectly as we’d like it to. So we’re working with the villagers to develop teacher supplement salaries, waiting on textbooks and implementing a vocational training program into the curriculum to make the school sustainable,” says Clotilde.

Without this school, there are no options for local girls to continue their education beyond the elementary level education. “That was the impetus in a sense, because the girls who graduated from the elementary school were really enjoying their schooling and wanted somewhere to go. And clearly, secondary school is a really essential bridge that should be in place in terms of connecting your beginning level of education and the productive lifestyle you’re able to have post-graduation. We thought it was a necessary thing.”

With the help of Ros and Caputo and the strength in Circle of Women, Dedecker continues to realize her vision as a sixteen year old, “I want to help it from the ground up, become something where it can make valuable contributions to our world. Which to me, everyone can and everyone should, but it’s a matter of having the tools in place. And education is, if not themost important, one of the most important tools.” Looks like in the years to come, 1,200 Afghani girls in the village of Wonkhai will have access to those tools.”