Your impact in 13 photos

By Kerri Whelan
January 7, 2022

2021 wasn’t an easy year. The pandemic interrupted our progress toward gender equality, and crises like forced migration only exacerbated the preexisting challenges for children and families.

But it is during our most challenging times that we have the opportunity for the greatest acts of kindness. This year, we came together to let girls and young women in crisis know that they are seen, that they will not be left behind and that hope is not lost. Thank you for your unwavering optimism and compassion.

To help you feel inspired for all that you’ve accomplished — and all that we can accomplish together in the new year — here are 13 photos illustrating just a small slice of the impact made for girls, young women and families in 2021.

 

1. You protected children from COVID-19.

The Ebola outbreak of 2014 resulted in more than 14,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, communities knew they had to take immediate, preemptive action.

“When we had Ebola, we didn’t know what was happening to us,” says Musa, a father of three in Sierra Leone. “Now with COVID-19, we know exactly what is happening,”

Plan knew that many households in the country didn’t have hand washing supplies or sanitizer amid COVID-19, so we immediately implemented a hygiene and sanitation project. With your support, we provided 4,500 households across four districts with hand washing stations and soap. We also worked with community members to raise awareness, distributing posters and videos on how to stay protected from COVID-19.

 

2. You helped girls continue their education during the pandemic.

Sinxay is a 10-year-old girl from Laos. Both of her parents are rice farmers, but her father also has to travel to work at a banana plantation for 15 days each month, earning an extra income to make ends meet.

“The COVID-19 pandemic stopped me from going to work at the plantation, and I was worried about all the expenses — especially my children’s schooling,” Sinxay’s father says.

To support families in Laos facing financial hardship during the pandemic, Plan offered school scholarships for children in need. Plan is also working in Sinxay’s community to provide school uniforms, menstrual products for adolescent girls and safe spaces for children to learn.

“If my daughter had not received this scholarship, she would not have been able to continue her schooling this year,” Sinxay’s father says.

Now, Sinxay says she is happy to be in school and wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

 

3. You protected girls from child marriage.

Child marriage is very common in Mali. So, when COVID-19 hit and girls couldn’t go to school, they were at even greater risk of being forced to become child brides. Mariam, age 16, was one of those girls.

“One day, the brothers of my late husband came to see me and told me that they were going to give Mariam in marriage, given the school closure,” says Mariam’s mother, Kafounè. “Here it’s like that — men make this kind of decision and just inform you.”

When Plan staff learned of Mariam’s child marriage, we immediately held an awareness-raising meeting with local authorities and parents, discussing the long-term consequences of child marriage and the benefits of girls’ education. After attending the session, Mariam’s mother bravely confronted her family and refused to let Mariam be married.

Now, with your help, Mariam is back in school and plans to go to college.

 

4. You amplified the voices of young activists.

When Julia was asked to join a Plan leadership project for indigenous girls and young women, she didn’t hesitate.

“Where I live, there are not enough young leaders,” she says.

Through the project, made possible by your support, 19-year-old Julia from Guatemala learned about political advocacy, civic participation, self-esteem and protection from gender-based violence. “After the workshops, I changed a lot, which my family noticed,” she says. “Before, I was very lonely and shy. Now I’m not afraid to talk to people.”

With her new leadership skills, Julia became a member of her community’s water committee, a space traditionally held by older men and women. The water committee meets once a month with representatives from 20 other communities, exchanging information about water shortages, expenses and the routes for newly planned water lines.

“It’s a miracle that I’m on the water committee at such a young age,” Julia says. “A good leader never gives up.”

 

5. You fought against period stigma.

When Rinku got her first period, she didn’t know what was happening. She went to her mother and was told that menstruation is “a disease.”

Rinku is now 25 years old and lives in the same community in Bangladesh that she grew up in, with a husband and two children of her own. Her village participates in a Plan health program, made possible by your support, which hosts community group sessions on good hygiene practices and menstrual health management. Rinku joined one of the sessions that was led by her mother-in-law — and she finally realized that the shame she felt when menstruating didn’t need to exist.

“If I hadn’t joined the meeting that day, I would probably have never known the truth about the superstitions I wrongly held about menstruation,” Rinku says. “I will raise my daughter with the truth.”

 

6. You kept refugee children protected.

In March 2021, a devastating fire tore through the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Many children became separated from their families — like sisters Kalima, age 6, and Habiba, age 4.

Plan staff found the two little girls on the side of the road after the fire, extremely disoriented and afraid. They were immediately taken to a Plan emergency center and kept safe while Plan staff worked to reunite them with their family. Plan emergency centers were established across eight areas of the camp after the fire, which made it possible for staff to reconnect Kamia and Habiba with their mother, who was desperately trying to find them.

7. You responded to women’s unique health needs.

Awa is a mother of four and survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). After giving birth to her third child, complications from being cut made her ill.

“I’ve been sick for six years,” Awa says. “It’s difficult to sit and walk. I can’t work. It was the FGM that did this. I went to see a doctor and they told me that it cannot be treated here, only in the hospital.”

Awa’s rural community has limited health services, but Plan was able to fund her treatment through a program that’s promoting access to family planning and sexual reproductive health services, made possible by you.

“The operation was done three months ago, and I’m not sick anymore … I got my health back,” she says. “My daughter is not cut because I know the consequences. When I was sick, I suffered a lot, so now I raise awareness to not cut girls.”

 

8. You helped children recover from malnutrition.

South Sudan is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. An estimated 1.4 million children in the country under the age of 5 were predicted to face hunger in 2021. Food shortages are particularly severe in Pibor county, where floods have destroyed crops and livelihoods.

But with your help, Plan scaled up operations in Pibor country and surrounding areas to deliver immediate food supplies. We’ve also opened nutrition centers in 21 communities across Pibor to treat malnutrition among young children. And, considering that complications during pregnancy are a leading cause of death among young women — and malnutrition increases the risks of those complications — Plan also focused on the health needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women.

 

9. You inspired entrepreneurship and helped women launch their own businesses.

Naomi from Ghana started a poultry farm in her backyard in 2017. Unfortunately, it didn’t generate much income — she didn’t have access to any formal training. But eventually she discovered a Plan program where women can learn about starting a farming business, and things began to change.

Local Plan staff taught Naomi about the best types of birds to breed, setting feeding regimes, vaccinations, bookkeeping, marketing and leadership skills. Her farm grew from 100 chickens to 3,000. Today, on average, she collects 200 crates of eggs per week. And, her clientele expanded from just neighbors to restaurants and supermarkets.

Your support helps to fund programs that encourage women’s economic independence, and women like Naomi have used this support to transform their own lives. “If it were not for this project, I would not have come this far,” she says.

 

10. You responded to children’s immediate needs during natural disasters.

Millions of children are affected by natural disasters each year. And in the midst of a pandemic, natural disasters are creating a terrible intersection of emergencies.

In April 2021, Cyclone Seroja devastated communities in Indonesia with historic flooding and landslides. With support from people like you, Plan was able to immediately respond to the needs of children. Over six months, Plan provided emergency shelters, educational materials, menstrual products, water and sanitation and hygiene services. We also distributed cash vouchers to the families of sponsored children, covering their essential needs while they’re living in temporary shelters.

 

11. You helped boys join the fight for gender equality.

In Burkina Faso, an estimated 3 million girls have been married as children. And despite efforts from government leaders, the practice persists. That’s why Plan established a child marriage prevention program in Burkina Faso, engaging children and young people to learn about their rights.

“It’s important that girls and boys hear the same messages,” says program leader, Télesphore Kiawara. “We realized how important it was for boys to be part of the [the program’s] clubs too.”

One of the boys who joined the program’s clubs is Adama, who learned about the consequences of early marriage, as well as sexual and reproductive health.

“I was skeptical about the club at first, but then I saw how they did things,” Adama says. “Becoming part of the club has changed my life for the better. I can see a brighter future for me now.”

 

12. You helped children like Larissa continue to participate in sponsorship.

People like you sponsor thousands of children in need through Plan. When you become a sponsor, you can help a child receive an education, have access to clean water and healthcare and be protected from violence.

Larissa, age 13, is a sponsored child with Plan who lives in Burkina Faso. Because of conflict and violence in the country, she had to stay at a displacement camp with her family for some time. But when she returned to her village, she was comforted by the letters she found from her sponsor.

“We’ve been writing letters to each other for six years, which makes me really happy,” she says.

And because of the support from sponsors, Plan has helped Larissa continue her education amid the country’s conflict. “Going back to school made me smile again,” she says.

 

13. You supported girls’ safety online.

In a 2021 report, Plan surveyed 26,000 girls and young women across 33 countries and found an alarming trend: 46% of girls feel stressed, worried, anxious, sad or depressed because of harassment and false information online — like hate speech, misogyny or unreliable medical advice. And, misinformation online is having a negative impact on 87% of girls’ and women’s mental health.

But with your support to girls and young advocates, Plan facilitated a girl-led petition urging the Biden Administration to keep the campaign promise of creating a National Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse. The petition received more than 900 signatures, amplifying girls’ voices and calling on our government to confront online harassment. And girls around the world are taking the lead to develop strategies with federal and state governments, social media companies, schools and other public and private entities to keep girls safe online.