Odette, a 23-year- old Girls Take the Lead mentor and mother of a three 3-year-old, grew up in a Rwandan refugee camp two hours from Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali. There are two long-standing camps, Gihembe and Nyabiheke, which are home to thousands of Congolese refugees. The refugees fled the Congo years ago to escape war and persecution, and many have lived there for 10-20 years. Many children and adolescents were born in the camp, and it’s the only life they’ve ever known. While most young people in the camp are in school, the setting offers few opportunities for them to engage in activities that help them develop in positive and productive ways. Odette found an opportunity for herself and others with Plan International’s Girls Take the Lead project.
The project, implemented with funding from Caterpillar Foundation and an anonymous donor, uses a mentoring model to reach adolescent girls with the Choose a Future! curriculum taught by 22 young women in their mid-twenties. The project takes advantage of Plan’s fenced in offices at each camp to create a “safe space,” an environment in which the girls can speak freely and build their self-confidence. The Choose a Future! life skills curriculum is the core of the program, and the project’s mentors are proud to facilitate it and be seen as leaders in the community. They take great pride in their role as mentors and serve as role models to the adolescent girls in the program. Though they are there to deliver the curriculum, they also feel they benefit from it.
Odette is amazed by the remarkable change she sees in both the adolescent girls and herself since the program started in January. She not only teaches the curriculum, but strives to lead by example to show younger girls what it means to be a confident and productive member of society.
“We had a different way of viewing matters before Girls Take the Lead. We used to think that we were just living to get through each day, and had no plans or purpose for our lives,” says Odette. “I thought that all I could do was give birth to as many children as possible and look to men to provide for me because that is what I grew up seeing my female relatives do. This program has taught me a different way of thinking.”
The Choose a Future! curriculum contains modules on setting goals, effective communication, financial literacy, self-confidence, gender stereotypes and sexual and reproductive health. In each camp, the mentors work in pairs to deliver the curriculum to groups of 30 adolescent girls, age 12-17. Most of the girls are in school, but some have dropped out due to pregnancy and childbirth. The mentors meet with the girls every Sunday to facilitate sessions to help the girls make informed decisions about their own bodies, health and future. While mentors deliver programming to the adolescent girls once a week, they meet with each other daily to review the upcoming sessions, reflect on the previous week’s session, share best practices and challenges, and establish a common understanding of what is to be taught to ensure consistent and quality programming across groups.
The mentors say that since they joined Girls Take the Lead, they’ve realized that they have not been thinking enough about their own future. The program has helped them change their mindset, and they now have ambitions to do things that can help them support themselves and their families.
“I have started saving some of the money I earn as a mentor, and I intend to learn hairdressing skills,” says Odette. “Then I will start my own business, because I see hairdressers in my camp have good businesses.”
Odette’s colleague, Vestine, supports her idea saying, “We wish to learn skills in hair dressing, basket weaving, banner writing, and interior design and decoration because these kinds of jobs employ women here in the camp and provide income.” The project also supports programming for adolescent boys on positive masculinity and violence prevention through collaboration with local partner Rwanda Men’s Resource Center (RWAMREC).