A Guide is loyal and polite; she keeps her word, and loves and respects nature. A Guide is a friend to all and a sister to every other Guide. She is courageous, good tempered, pure, and makes herself useful and helps others. These are some of the laws that girls who are part of the Association des Guides du Rwanda (AGR) abide by. As a space that offers girls an opportunity to challenge themselves, find their voice, meet new friends, have fun and make a difference in the world, Association des Guides du Rwanda also comes with opportunities to explore leadership, health and socio-economic abilities, outdoor challenges, awareness and so much more through enriching experiences that stay with members for a lifetime. The girls are trained to give back and make an impact in society. Pascaline Umulisa, the executive director of the association, says guiding allows girls to choose, plan, and undertake a variety of activities aimed at helping them become confident young women. Components that are relevant to girls today are incorporated to empower them navigate through adulthood fully aware of their rights, ambitions and act as change makers. AGR has, hence, prioritised sexual reproductive health and rights, financial literacy, prevention of alcohol abuse and gender-based violence, amongst other issues. These girls and women learn, grow and inspire each other without the fear of being judged. And this impacts their lives and that of the country in terms of growth and development. Pascaline Furaha Irakarama, a university graduate, still remembers the first days of her guiding journey. She recalls herself as a very reserved person, who was afraid to take any risks. Among other things, girls are taught about plastic recycling to protect the environment. But her time with the Girl Guides helped her transform. “My experience with girl guiding has been enlightening. I spent a great time participating in different activities such as national camps, trainings and conferences.” She says participating in such activities made her feel relevant. “I felt like for the first time, I had accomplished something on my own because it’s a movement which is very encouraging. I was assigned to different tasks and responsibilities including the planning of different events,” she says. “I developed my leadership skills and overcame fear as well. I remember participating in a youth exchange programme, where I was given the opportunity of going abroad for half a year to learn what is done elsewhere; I was hosted by Ghana Girl Guides Association.” Such experiences have shaped her into the woman she is today, she says, adding that with girl guiding, women are guaranteed of tapping into their hidden potential. “Today I am a very strong and motivated woman who is not afraid to take a risk,” she says. Olive Ujeneza, head teacher at GS Shagasha, Gihundwe Sector, Rusizi District, Western Province, says the greatest lessons she’s had from the Girl Guides is good leadership skills, self-confidence, public-speaking skills and how to be a voice to the voiceless. With the flag of AGR, she decided to become vice coordinator of National Women Council in her District. “I wanted to speak for those girls who get unwanted pregnancies; I am also part of those organisations that fight for women’s rights in our district. With the team of Girl Guides, we go round schools to sensitise young girls in particular and other people in general, to fight against early pregnancy, drugs, and nowadays, to fight against COVID-19. It is a task we dare to do because we are trained to serve our nation and to make the world better than we found it.” Ujeneza encourages all young girls and parents to let their daughters join this movement because it will transform them and become helpful to themselves and the nation. “They will be occupied with different activities and in doing so; they will not have time to go into useless activities that may lead them into different temptations. A good Girl Guide grows in fear of God and keeps in heart the development of her country,” Ujeneza says. About the association Guiding empowers girls to find their voice, talents and aspirations at a young age. So far, AGR has over 16,000 members across the country. The association operates in troops or units according to their age range; Bergeronnettes 5-12, Guides 13-17, Route 18-35, Cadres 36 and over. Members have access to a unique girl-led experience—a safe, welcoming girl-only space where they have the opportunity to discover new interests, develop their abilities, and share the experience with a group of friends. Impact Girls and young women who have been in guiding are able to exercise leadership from their classrooms and beyond. They are fearless, disciplined and bold. Umulisa says in today’s world where parents and guardians are mostly busy, guiding falls in to support the learning process of children and youth through outdoor activities (camps), which greatly shape their self-esteem, freedom, team working skills, communication and sense of adventure. With the rapid rise of teenage pregnancies, AGR took the lead to design non-formal educational sessions that equip girls and young women with information on sexual reproductive health and rights and how to seek related services. “AGR also champions for gender equality, thus each member is provided with tools and knowledge on violence, services available and more importantly, to advocate for girls’ rights within the community. When we mention girls’ empowerment, we cannot forget financial autonomy. Through AGR projects, girls and young women are trained on various skills such as beekeeping, business management to overcome poverty,” Umulisa says. They are also linked with financial institutions to access short-term loans or benefit from other financial package opportunities. The executive director says they are seeing a growing number of girl entrepreneurs, with great projects and ambitions to take to the next scale. Youth in guiding are connected nationwide and internationally, which gives them a sense of belonging to a global movement, exposing them to more leadership opportunities and stronger long term friendships. More challenges to be addressed Some of the biggest challenges faced by youth, according to Umulisa, include period poverty, where some young girls lack access or can’t afford safe, hygienic menstrual products. “Many girls and young women in Rwanda are being held back in life and even put in danger because of this issue. Additionally, taboos surrounding menstruation in families put pressure on girls to manage menstruation on their own, which puts them at risk of severe infections and other sanitation challenges. We recognise that the Government removed taxes on sanitary pads, nevertheless many vendors do not adhere to this practice, and consequently girls and women continue to face period poverty,” Umulisa explains. Umulisa also points to gender-based violence, observing that during the pandemic, enforced prevention measures such as quarantine, isolation, curfew and other movement restrictions reduced girls’ mobility which, in a way, resulted in increased exposure to abusers. As a result, violence, teenage pregnancies, girl-child labour and early marriage have become more rampant. “Also, we rarely talk about sexual corruption to obtain employment, but this is also another increasing and pressing concern. Girls with disabilities are still denied basic rights such as going to school. Some households hide them as they present a burden and shame to their families. Inshuti z’Umuryango/ local authorities and the communities should be educated on children’s rights and safeguarding to ensure those girls are known and integrated,” Umulisa says. She, therefore, calls onto responsible parties to work towards addressing these issues in order to continue providing a safe and opportune environment for young women and girls.