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Botswana: ‘Telling the Story’ of girls’ education

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©UNICEF/2003/Giacomo Pirozzi
The 'Telling the Story' project provides safe spaces for girls to share their experiences.

GABORONE, Botswana – For 21-year-old Boipelo Semere, a third-year student at the University of Botswana, the law degree she will soon receive is only one measure of success.

 “I’ve had the best life,” says Boipelo. “I’ve had my mom with me, I always had a school uniform, I always had everything I needed. But what is it like for other kids in this country?”

Together with a group of dedicated young people, Boipelo is helping to answer that question by facilitating a series of discussions on the subject of girls’ education, providing students with a unique opportunity to talk about challenges, work on solutions under the mentorship of young adults, and meet professional women who can serve as role models.

The project is called ‘Telling the Story,’ in honor of the children’s desire to share their experiences and the power of narrative to drive social change.

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© UNICEF/HQ01-0211/Giacomo Pirozzi
Children at the Lentswe primary school in the village of Mochudi.

“Because we are young people, the students are more open to us,” explains 21-year-old volunteer Onalenna Otlaadisa. “We help bring issues out into the open.”

The project is supported by the Botswana chapter of the Girls’ Education Movement, a grassroots initiative that promotes equality in education throughout Africa. One of the many strengths of the initiative is its ability to adapt to diverse contexts while preserving the ideal of change through child participation. In Botswana, where slightly more girls than boys are enrolled in school, the local chapter is called the Girls’/Boys’ Education Movement.

Yet while over 80 per cent of children are in school in Botswana, gender discrimination continues to undermine efforts to ensure education for all. Violence against women and girls is widespread; problems with girls’ retention continue to plague the school system; and girls are frequently left to shoulder the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over 37 per cent of people are HIV-positive, leading to a large orphan population and increased household responsibilities for girls – which often deprive them of the opportunity to attend classes and thrive in school.

“These issues affect both girls and boys. But where there are a lot of orphans, it is girls who are forced to take care of families. The students need guidance, and we can help,” says Kenanao Phele, another university student who works on the project.

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©UNICEF Botswana/2005/Kutloano Leshomo
Rebecca, Onalenna, Banabotlhe, Boipelo and Kenanao volunteer with the Girls' Education Movement.

“In almost all the schools we visit, we see orphans,” adds Banabotlhe Kesianye, who has volunteered with the movement for over four years. “Sometimes they depend on other students just to get uniforms.”

Through ‘Telling the Story,’ children are encouraged to share their hopes and fears in a confidential setting. This is especially important because of the prevalence of gender-based violence and the lack of ‘safe spaces’ in many schools.

“When we speak with the students, many of them get really excited to speak their minds,” says 20-year-old volunteer Rebecca Nyangavesi. “It helps girls, especially the ones who are abused. We are there to help them, and we never disclose their names. It’s great for them to be able to talk without fear of being questioned or punished. We are the voice for the voiceless!”

On 10 December, the findings of the ‘Telling the Story’ project will be released during the launch of the Girls’/Boys’ Education Movement as a participant in the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative.


 

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