As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, a program sponsored by Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) and WomenStrong International (WSI) reminds us of the challenges facing the adolescent girl.
AVFP works to empower enterprising women and girls in Manyatta, the largest slum in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, and in other Kisumu slums, with literacy and financial literacy, skills training, savings and loans groups and Girls’ Clubs. In response to demand, services have dramatically expanded over the last two years. And they are expanding again.
Mothers and Teens Speak Out
Missing a safe place to go where they could share and learn things not taught in traditional schools, information like reproductive health and tips for handling obstreperous boyfriends, graduates of AVFP’s Girls’ Clubs needed more. Around the same time, mothers in Manyatta began sharing their concerns about their adolescent daughters. The mothers worried about the everyday risks their daughters face, such as rape, which has reached nearly epidemic proportions in Manyatta, and teen pregnancy. They worried about the dangers that could interrupt their daughters’ education and trigger severe setbacks in the girls’ natural development. Like mothers everywhere, these women work hard so that their daughters might live happier and more fruitful lives than they could themselves. They want the education for their girls that they could never get.
Together, the girls and their mothers inspired AVFP to create multiple Teens’ Clubs across Manyatta. Designed to provide places for teenage girls to share their challenges and achievements and to hear from guest speakers and potential role models, the Teens’ Clubs have been a tremendous success.
More than 60 girls showed up for the first meeting, and from there, the word spread. Teenagers started eagerly calling AVFP to confirm the date and time of the next meeting, and when they came, they brought their friends, neighbors and cousins. By last April, more than 112 teenage girls were attending.
Teens’ Clubs Make an Impact
But the numbers tell only a small part of the story. Speakers at the meetings cover an array of topics of keen interest to the mothers and their teens, including career counseling, sexuality, teacher-student and parent-child relationships and school performance. Guest speakers, subject facilitators and intended role models provide valuable information on navigating the temptations and risks of adolescence and on the importance of determination and self-esteem in realizing one’s full potential. In between meetings, AVFP’s Women’s and Girls’ Coordinator offers individual counseling with girls facing particular troubles or worries. And the girls are taking what they hear to heart.
Following the initial set of meetings, the girls’ mothers eagerly reported changes in their daughters’ behavior: the girls seemed more confident, more courageous, more open and forthright. Parents noted that family communication improved, with conversations now rooted in respect rather than fear. Teens became more open to listening to their parents on subjects related to the opposite sex and more willing to ask questions when they needed information.
The program shows the immensely positive impact that teen interventions can play in changing the lives of adolescent girls, especially when the creation of the program involves both the teens and mothers themselves. The mothers who pushed for the additional Teens’ Club are proud of what has happened to-date. They are now confident in their daughters’ ability to work hard and to build their own path out of poverty – with the kind of support provided by the Clubs. And their daughters agree. The girls in the Teens’ Clubs don’t want to experience the same hardships as their parents.
The oldest teen in the club will take her national exams this coming year, to determine whether and where she will attend high school; many other young girls will follow. AVFP’s Teens’ Club program has pointed them in the right direction, with the right guidance.
The increased demand for the Clubs and services has been both challenging and gratifying for AVFP. If more resources can be found, AVFP plans to expand the program next year to be able to accommodate 300 or more girls. The expansion will include extending the topics covered, inviting a wider array of role models and facilitators to speak about personal hygiene, reproductive health, promising career paths and the critical importance of completing one’s education to achieving one’s goals.
The ultimate goals of fewer pregnancies, higher education and better lives have yet to be achieved. But the interim goal is working: teens see AVFP as a place they can come for counseling when they need help, information to guide their own better decision-making, and to share their experiences, positive and otherwise, both with their wiser advisors and their fellow girls. In the face of the threats they face each day, they feel less alone; in their dreams of a brighter future, they, and their mothers, now have more hope.
On this International Day of the Girl Child, WomenStrong International celebrates the remarkable resilience and determination of girls worldwide. Follow the “Latest Stories” at womenstrong.org , for more Day of the Girl coverage.