Building assets for girls in Sierra Leone

by

Su is Plan International USA's Because I am a Girl Manager

One of my favorite activities we do during our Girl Focus workshops is the Asset-Building Exercise. You might be wondering what an asset is; an asset can be skills, knowledge, or resources. It’s anything that reduces a girl’s vulnerability and expands her opportunities. And because girls have different needs at different stages of their lives, it’s important for us to build her assets early, so that we can focus on preventing circumstances that are irreversible before she becomes vulnerable.

There are three types of assets that we discuss – human assets (such as self-confidence, a birth certificate), social assets (friends, a support system, a place to go if she is not safe), and financial assets (knowledge of where the local bank is, a savings account).

So the exercise lays out cards on a wall denoting different age ranges in a girl’s lifecycle (8 and below, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18, and 19 and aboe), and we have cards that denote different assets. The goal of the exercise is to place each card under the latest age range by which a girl should have acquired this asset.

We first do this exercise with the staff, and then we repeat the exercise with 2 groups of girls from a rural community in Sierra Leone. After several heated discussions amongst each group, it was so interesting to see that the program staff had placed the cards fairly evenly across the age ranges, and some even skewing to the later stage of her adolescence.

We repeated the exercise the following morning with girls from a community in Western Rural Area, and concluded with vastly different results! The girls had placed their cards MUCH earlier in their lifecycle, and one of the girls made a bold comment that has stuck with me ever since. She said that she would want ALL of the assets by the time she was 8. Any later is too late. And it truly is. When girls are getting married and are subject to early pregnancy as early as 10 years old, waiting to provide her with the resources she needs to survive is just simply too late.

Juxtaposing the final products of the staff and those of the girls was really crucial in demonstrating a couple of really important points. The first is that we are oftentimes delivering girls assets much too late. We need to act early if we want to catch her before she falls into an irreversible trap door. The second 'aha' was that girls are the experts at being girls. We need to actively include them in our project design and ask them what they need. They’re more than welling to tell us.

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