Global G.L.O.W. HerStory mentor Virginia Bulacio (Vivi) was 15 when she arrived in the United States with her family from Santiago Del Estero, Argentina. Growing up in the small town, Vivi lacked access to vital resources and opportunity. In search of a better life, she and her family immigrated to Los Angeles.

At first, Vivi had a hard time assimilating. School was challenging because she didn’t speak English and had a hard time understanding her classes. She spent a great deal of time helping her stepdad in the furniture store he owned on Melrose and learned phrases like, “which table would you like?” so she could interact with the customers. She credits her teachers and mentors for getting her through high school.

“They never gave up on me. They taught me Algebra while teaching me English at the same time. I am grateful for the teachers who stayed after school to help me.”

Vivi not only survived high school – she thrived. After graduating, she attended CAL State Northridge where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Minor in Spanish Media. It was never easy; Vivi had to take 3-4 different buses to get to school and often made it home after midnight.

“Some nights I felt like giving up. Now I know those were the nights that made me stronger.”

It’s these experiences that Vivi draws upon as a Global G.L.O.W. HerStory mentor in Los Angeles. She reflects on all of the people who helped her become the woman she is today and knows that she has the opportunity to help girls in much the same way, especially those from immigrant families like hers. “When girls come to Global G.L.O.W., they feel safe, they feel at home.”

At the beginning of each HerStory session, Vivi and the other Los Angeles-based mentors gather the girls in a circle and open with a question like “how do you feel today?” or “what color would you use to describe your feelings?” Next, they will lead a meditation before breaking into groups to complete the daily activity as outlined in the HerStory curriculum. Every day is ended with a gratitude meditation.

“Imagine if we all had access to a program like this. As women, if we had a place to go to complete daily activities, learn to respect ourselves and practice gratitude, it would make us feel closer to each other as human beings.”

Over the course of the three years she has mentored for Global G.L.O.W., Vivi has noticed a remarkable change in the girls in the program. “They are taking steps to be better people. Not only are they completing their homework and doing better in school, but they are learning to take better care of themselves. They are learning to be kind and caring in their relationships, and they are becoming more confident and learning to respect themselves. These girls are a beautiful example that we can always change ourselves. And we can always be more kind and respectful to one another.”

Attendees from Global G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World)’s presentation, part of the UN’s Working Group on Girls ‘Speak Out’ event, pose together at the United Nations headquarters on Thursday, October 11, 2018, in New York. The event coincides with the U.N.-recognized International Day of the Girl. (Kevin Hagen/AP Images for Global G.L.O.W.)

The highlight of Vivi’s time as a Global G.L.O.W. mentor thus far was attending the Global HerStory Summit in New York with delegates from Los Angeles. “At the beginning of the week the girls were a little shy, but by the end of the summit girls from all over the world were best friends. It was nice to see how they created these friendships. The week changed the girls, and they were able to bring everything they learned home with them to teach other students.” Vivi added, “these girls also changed the mentors who attended. They were so wonderful and had so much love and gratitude. I was very grateful to be there with them. I learned so much from them.”

“As a mentor, my relationship with these girls is magical. We have wonderful moments together. And that’s why Global G.L.O.W. is so important. We learn so much from those moments.”

Watch the moving tribute Vivi created for her girls, here