Every year, the UN International Day of the Girl Child falls on 11 October, a special day marked to celebrate, highlight and resolve issues that affect girls all over the world. On this day, the world is reminded that girls’ rights to education, a safe and healthy life are still far from being accomplished.
In Rwanda, where the youth takes up 61% of the population, over 3 million being female, the importance of girls’ issues is very much a critical agenda.
From the promotion of education and technology to employment and increased skills, Vision 2020 has looked at many fields that affect young people.
Likewise, Imbuto Foundation has valued preciously, its role as a spokesperson for youth issues. Over the years, the Foundation’s special attention to girls has been a lucid attempt at leveling the playing field for them.
Programmes such as 'Promotion of Girls' Education' with its annual rewarding of best performing girls, and '12+', geared towards their education and empowerment, are right at home at this Foundation.
While instilling values of self-confidence, leadership and excellence, these programmes build the self-esteem and spirit of young girls to dream. And dream "big".
In the Promotion of Girls' Education Programme, excellence in school is recognized and rewarded annually on a national platform, in the presence of the First Lady and leaders from different occupational fields. This high-profile acknowledgement serves multiple purposes.
One, is for young awardees to develop a healthy pride in their accomplishments and be motivated to continue on the same path of excellence. Another, is to expose these girls and their communities to role models that incarnate how well they can succeed with a disciplined mind and the right will and dedication.
A third, is to create a mindset of giving back and witness larger numbers of best performing girls later become role models themselves and encourage younger generations to do just as well.
To date, more than 4,200 girls have been rewarded since the campaign started in 2005.
As for 12+, it is a three-year programme built around empowering 10-12 year old girls to better exercise their social, economic and health rights. It is about equipping girls still at a sensitive and impressionable age, with adequate knowledge and skills to make the best informed decisions about their lives. With teenage years and related challenges around the corner, this age group is a critical entry point, if the future of girls is to be changed for the better.
12+ is currently implemented nationally by Imbuto Foundation and two other non-profit organizations. Over the past 2 years, the programme has reached more than 13,000 girls in 10 districts. The participants called mentees, are taught and mentored by young women mentors in physical locations called "safe spaces".
These are schools, youth centers and other communal areas, reserved for meetings between mentees and mentors. They offer a degree of privacy and comfort to ensure that the girls feel comfortable asking questions or making comments without feeling judged or chastised.
In safe spaces, teachings are based on a booklet specifically designed to deliver simple and relevant lessons through storytelling and animations. Topics range from the importance of hygiene and learning how to start and maintain a kitchen garden, to saving money and understanding sexual and reproductive health.
Lessons take the form of discussions and learning journeys, to places where what the girls have learned, is concretely actualized. They visit hospitals, financial institutions and cooperatives.
With this initiative, girls are learning to be independent, confident and understand the importance of being financially literate. It is often said that teaching a woman, is teaching a community, and it is clear that the programme is not only fostering change in the lives of girls, but of their community as well.
With the project winding up its three-year run next year, Imbuto hopes that districts will be able to continue 12+ autonomously, reaching an increasing number of girls for years to come, reminding the Rwandan society that the success of 12+ not only lies in the hands of local communities but of all Rwandans.
The hope is that these programmes to empower women and girls help to shape a better Rwanda.
One that is confident in the potential and abilities of all its youth, not just half of them; one that builds its future on a solid foundation made of independent, knowledgeable, self-assured women alongside their supportive male peers.
12+, as seen from five beneficiaries’ perspectives…
My name is Parfaite Teta and I’m 11 years old. I joined the 12+ project in June this year, after my mother heard an announcement about it and asked a mentor to sign me up. Among the things I like about 12+, is going to the ‘learning journeys’ because they teach us important topics.
For example, at our last visit to a home garden, I learned how to prepare meals that are good for our health. We also visited a 9-year basic education school, where older students encouraged us to work hard, so we can finish our studies like them.
I enjoy going to 12+ safe spaces and then sharing the topics learned with my family, but also my friends when I go back to school the following Monday.
Also, when in school, I practice what I have learned by telling students to stop misbehaving.
My name is Délice and I’m 11 years old. I joined the 12+ project a few months ago and what I like most about this project, is that it helped me make new friends and learn good hygiene practices.
I also learned about what should be grown in a vegetable garden and how to ask for things nicely and not get upset when the answer is no.
My family wants me to continue going to the ‘safe space’ sessions, because they can see that I am learning positive things. Now, my friends also want to start going to the 12+ mentoring sessions.
My name is Justine, I’m 11 years old and I started attending the 12+ mentoring sessions this past June. A community leader told my family there was a programme designed to help young girls in our communities so they put my name and others’, on a list, then we were contacted by an Imbuto mentor. I like going to these sessions, because I meet with other children and they teach us things that the whole family can learn from, for example, how to prepare healthy meals.
Additionally, these mentoring sessions teach me to respect those who are older, but also younger than me.
My name is Nicole and I’m 12 years old. Last year, a community leader met with my mother and told her about this project, so they signed me up for it.
When I arrived at the first meeting, I saw many other girls there. I enjoy being part of this programme because I get to meet and play with other children and I see my friends there. We also learn many things about ourselves, like how to take care of our bodies and our personal hygiene.
In 12+, we also learn about saving in the SACCO (cooperatives), how to utilise our money well, according to what is really needed. My parents think 12+ is teaching me valuable things and I think all children should learn what we learn in these ‘safe spaces’. Now, I feel like when I grow up, I want to become a doctor and a mentor.
My name is Fabiola and I’m 11 years old. I joined 12+ about 4 months ago, after hearing my friends talk about what they had learned in it, the year before. They told me they learned about our health as young girls, but also other things like savings.
With my friends and family, we talk about the changes that occur when we go through puberty, and how to handle them. My family likes the topics we learn and they insist I attend every session in our ‘safe space’.
Through 12+, I wish to continue learning how to save money, live well with others while respecting them, and uphold the values of a role model.