Think about it. Being a woman. Being black. Being a child. Being African. Each of these have had a hashtag or two advocating for their rights on social media. Imagine being all the above? We could add to these factors - poverty, no education, wrangle in political instability, war, drought, famine. How is any girl supposed to make it against these insurmountable odds?
And yet. They rise. Still they rise.
I have specialized in field epidemiology. It is an unexpected passion. I always knew I would do something a little different but battling the elements, interviewing communities and producing document upon document is a little out there. And I love it. I recently evaluated a mentorship programme for vulnerable girls in Zimbabwe called Sista2sista in one of the countries' provinces and my findings were impressive.
The Sista2sista programme was launched in Zimbabwe in September 2013. The aim of the Sista2Sista programme is to enhance the self-efficacy of young women to access and utilize integrated HIV prevention, Sexual Reproductive Health and Gender-based Violence services by empowering them to make responsible reproductive health decisions. The methodology that was chosen is one of building group rapport among a group of young women through facilitating meetings in clubs for girls only. These clubs, coined “Sista2Sista Clubs” provide an environment where an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust between the Club members can be built, giving them a social support network within their own community that is likely to lie beyond the confines and the lifespan of their Sista2Sista Club. The clubs create safe spaces for mentoring vulnerable adolescent girls (school drop outs, orphans and teenage mothers), a space where they can speak with mentors and each other about their problems and receive information, counselling and support.
You will find the results of my evaluation in my published work (listen to me). Well, I'm sure I'm not allowed to share anything yet but what I can tell you is that the African girl is out there clutching onto any shred of hope offered to her. Mentorship is one of the best ways to empower and teach vulnerable girls. It uses a long-term intervention approach as compared to fly-by-night campaigns which wear off with time. Mentors form relationships with mentees which are long-lasting and can imprint on a young mind in a meaningful way. I was so impressed by the attitude of the volunteer mentors who did not care that they were paid $15 a month but rather recommended the programme increase the minimum number of girls they are allowed to recruit. These are women who, because of their role, were elevated in their communities and felt obliged to be better role models for their girls. The girls themselves; confident, happy, financially aware, wanting to do better, be better; after a year in the programme were pillars for the other girls in the community. It was very encouraging to see that somethings are actually working.
I saw these girls and thought: but I was once here. Bright eyed and ambitious. When I was 17 my aspirations included wanting to travel, wanting to be pretty, wanting independence which would enable me to provide for my family and of course, love. The girls in the programme I was evaluating now, to many, are just statistics. Highest incidence of HIV. Drivers of the epidemic. Vulnerable group. Key affected population. But really, they are just like I was; a girl wanting adventure, freedom, love.
I am happy I am in a position to make some sort of impact here or there in this area. Empowering these vulnerable girls to just be girls. Allow them to be silly and giggly and happy. Everyone deserves to be who they are. Even the vulnerable African girl child.