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Innovative Solutions: Youth Mobilization and Activism Empowers Girls to Speak Out and Attend School

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©UNICEF Rwanda
Tuseme club members performing a traditional Rwandan dance at Murama School.

Education is one of the most critical areas of youth empowerment and mobilization, especially for girls, who consistently face exclusion and discrimination over the course of their lives.

In Rwanda, the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) partnered with UNICEF to conduct Tuseme, or ‘speak out,’ clubs in 54 schools across the country. These clubs comprise boys and girls from all grades and provide an opportunity for students to come together to discuss challenges they face at school.

“Theatre is an important tool for addressing social issues and raising awareness among school children. It is a fun way to engage children and build confidence. Children really enjoy theatre but at the same time it plays an important role in passing on important messages,” said Pacifique Jean Claude Ingabire, Program Office at FAWE.

In June, at Murama School in Bugesera District, over 100 students gathered to watch a theatre performance by the school’s Tuseme club. The play tackled issues that might prevent girls from completing their education: early pregnancy, self-esteem and transactional relationships between young girls and older men.

“The Tuseme club has helped me build my confidence and speak out against issues such as teacher harassment and teenage pregnancies,” said Priscole Cyuzuzo, an 18 year-old girl.

Solange Uwamahoro, Head Teacher of Murama School, added, “The clubs have helped empower young girls. When they have problems they are able to talk about how they might overcome these challenges.”

In South Asia, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative’s (UNGEI) Young Champion (YC) programme identifies and trains young volunteers dedicated to the promotion of girls’ education. YCs work together with other activists to convince parents to send their children to school, keeping records and monitoring out-of-school children.

In Nepal, Mr. Kalara Ram, 30 years-old from Lahan Municipality, exemplifies the success of the YC model. After completing his training, Mr. Ram identified 52 children in his community not going to school and counselled these children and their parents on the importance of quality education. He continues to raise the voice for children’s rights among social and governmental organizations and inspires children from the most disadvantaged communities to enrol and stay in school.

In urban slums on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, Mr. Syed Mohsin Raza volunteers in the YC initiative to get every child in school. Since September 2010, he has “managed to have more than 200 children enrolled. Initially, it is difficult to convince the parents. I tell about the advantages of educating their children and eventually they agree. I encourage them to keep their children in school for at least 10 years,” he said.

Most out-of-school children are marginalized and poor; some have been forced by circumstances to drop out and engage in child labour. Shirin Nayyar, 6 years-old, was enrolled due to the efforts of Mr. Raza, who convinced her parents to let her receive non-formal education. Within a few months, Shirin showed good progress and enrolled at the local Government Primary School Ahmedabad.

“I am a poor man and did not realize the importance of education my children,” said Abbas Nayyar, Shirin’s father. “Ever since Shirin started going to school, my thoughts have changed. Now I believe that parents who do not send their children to school commit a major sin. I will work hard to education all my children so that they could have a better life.”

In Ghana, UNICEF is equipping a group of Tech Girls to become young journalists and tell their stories via blogs and digital photography. They are also given skills to advocate for change in their communities. Gloria Seidu, 11, is one of the members of the group, said, "I am writing a story about the girls who sell sachets of water on the street. They are missing out on going to school."

There are 100 Tech Girls in schools across the Northern Region of Ghana. For the past year, they met outside of class time for sessions in ICT. The girls had never touched a computer before so the lessons started with the basics. "Before, if you would go to class, only boys would raise their hands to talk. Now the Tech Girls stand tall and speak out. There is a difference in their general performance, and their grades have all improved," Pong Tamale School headmaster, Tia Anthony. More of their stories can be found on www.voicesofyouth.org. 

Through these youth empowerment and mobilization efforts, issues of girls’ education at school and community levels. They are giving a voice to youth activists and ensuring that these voices are heard. Mr. Raza added, “I keep visiting their schools to check their progress, and see their families to know how they feel about their children being educated. In case a child stops coming to school, I follow up and try to find the reason. It is important that no child drops out once enrolled.”


 

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