Peekskill Organization Is Making the World Safer for Girls  

Too Young to Wed Founder Stephanie Sinclair guides the late civil rights and humanitarian icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu through her seminal body of work on child marriage at the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child at the United Nations in New York. Photo > Jessica Van Fleteren.

Stephanie Sinclair smiles warmly through the computer screen. “I’m in Cortlandt Manor,” she says. “About ten minutes from the office.” Sinclair is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who focuses on human rights challenges faced by girls and women around the world. She regularly contributes to National Geographic, The New York Times, and Time, and has been awarded UNICEF’s Photo of the Year, numerous World Press Photo awards, and three Visa D’Or Feature awards.  

Her Peekskill-based nonprofit, Too Young to Wed (TYTW), has educated billions about the consequences of child marriage, and is busy helping evacuate Afghan families through their Afghanistan Emergency Initiative. Despite all this—or, perhaps, because of it—Sinclair exudes an infectious calm and grace. “I’ve been up here seven years now.” 

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Originally from Miami, Sinclair studied Journalism and Fine Art Photography at the University of Florida. After graduating, she worked for The Chicago Tribune, covering the start of the war in Iraq. She then moved to the Middle East and worked for six years as a freelance photographer throughout the region. While in Afghanistan in 2003, she witnessed the realities of early, forced and child marriage and dedicated the next 15 years to documenting the lives of those around the world affected by the practice.   

The result of this documentation is the international traveling photo exhibitionToo Young to Wed,” which features the stories of child brides as young as five from Nepal. India, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and the United States. The series has won global accolades and had numerous prestigious exhibitions, including at United Nations Headquarters and the Whitney Biennial in New York 

Faiz, 40, and Ghulam, 11, sit in her home prior to their wedding, Afghnanistan, Sept. 11, 2005. Ghulam said she is sad to be getting engaged as she wanted to be a teacher. Her favorite class was Dari, the local language, before she was made to drop out of school. Married girls are seldom found in school, limiting their economic and social opportunities. Parents sometimes remove their daughters from school to protect them from the possibility of sexual activity outside of wedlock. It is hard to say exactly how many young marriages take place, but according to the Afghan women’s ministry and women’s NGOs, approximately 57 percent of Afghan girls get married before the legal age of 16. In addition, once the girl’s father has agreed to the engagement, she is pulled out of school immediately. Early pregnancies also result in an increase in complications during child birth.

The exhibition launched in October of 2012 on the first International Day of the Girl Child. On that same day, Sinclair decided she would create a nonprofit named after her capstone series, whose mission would be to empower girls and end child marriage globally. “I’d been in the field for a long time at that point, documenting the issue,” she explains. “And I saw that there weren’t NGOs (non-profits) on the very front line… They needed to reach more rural areas. And I felt like we could do that. We could work as a small NGO and reach some of those harder to reach areas.” 

Too Young to Wed was initially run out of an office in Brooklyn, and then out of Sinclair’s home in Cortlandt Manor after her family moved upstate. In 2018, the organization got its own office in downtown Peekskill.  

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TYTW is making the world a better and safer place for girls in so many ways. The Tehani Photo Workshop is a 7-day immersive art therapy and empowerment retreat for survivors to share their experiences and learn photography, journalism, and storytelling skills. Leadership Scholarships provide direct support for girls-at-risk for, and survivors of, child marriage by giving them access to sustained education. TYTW provides breakfasts to schoolgirls in Yemen, gives emergency aid packages to Nigerian girls, and offers multi-year Leadership Scholarships to children most at risk of child marriage in Nepal. The organization is also running Emergency Covid-19 Health and Safety Initiatives in Yemen, Nigeria, Kenya, and Nepal 

TYTW has created several meaningful partnerships with other Westchester-based nonprofit organizations since moving up here. They are currently working with Ossining for Refugees and Neighbors for Refugees to evacuate Afghan families and integrate them into the community.  

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They are also partnering with the Rotary Club of Peekskill and the Rotary Club of Maralal Samburu in Kenya to provide scholarships and foster family/community dialogue in the effort to encourage parents to let their daughters remain in school and not enter into marriage.  

Jim Sacci of Rotary Club of Peekskill says they are thrilled to be partnering with TYTW. “Stephanie Sinclair has visited our club several times to give us presentations about Too Young to Wed. We fell in love with her and TYTW’s projects and have tried to support them as much as we can.” 

With Peekskill’s New Era Creative Space, TYTW launched the Resilient Girls virtual advocacy and empowerment program in fall of 2020. The program facilitated conversation between female youth leaders worldwide.  In the inaugural video interview, Sienna, TYTW’s first Youth Ambassador, an 18-year-old sophomore at Harvard, talked with Rosillah, a 16-year-old from Kenya’s Samburu County who had been married and cut at age 9, but was now attending school and hoping to work in medicine, thanks to TYTW’s scholarships and programs.  

“The [photo] workshop has helped me so much,” Rosillah explained to Sienna. “It has encouraged me … to gain courage, to stand in front of people and tell my story.” 

Sinclair is happy to be partnering with more local organizations. “A lot of the people we’re working with, through the Rotary Club and New Era Creative Space, really has made it feel like more of a community.” 

When Sinclair isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her family. She can be found dining at Gleason’s and 105 Twenty and hiking around Blue Mountain Reservation and Bear Mountain. “We do love it here,” she says. “It truly feels like home, and I definitely don’t plan on going anywhere.” 

  • tooyoungtowed.org 
  • ossiningforrefugees.org 
  • neighborsforrefugees.org 
  • peekskillrotary.com 
  • necspace.org 

  

2 Comments

  1. What an incredible story about the crucial work Stephanie Sinclair is doing with her non-profit. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

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About the Author: Caedra Scott-Flaherty