Multiplying the momentum for girls‘ education in Africa
As a survivor of school-related gender-based violence and having narrowly avoided early marriage, Alice Saisha understands the barriers that girls experience on a daily basis. That's why she's passionate in addressing these issues head on through activism.
December 14, 2018 by Alice Saisha, UNGEI|
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A role model to countless in her community, Alice regularly returns to her school as a mentor
CREDIT: Eliza Powell/CAMFED

Having grown up in a rural area, I understand the barriers that girls experience on a daily basis. I am a survivor of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), and narrowly avoided early marriage. This triggered in me the passion to address these issues head on through activism and by telling my story.

I am not alone: many African girls drop out or do not enroll in school due to poverty levels, HIV/AIDS, and child marriage. In Zambia, 31% of girls are married by 18. 61% of school children reported being bullied in the previous month (Fleming and Jacobsen, 2010).

Through support from CAMFED - Campaign for Female Education, I have joined together with 119,966 young women, Camfed alumnae known as CAMA members, across rural Africa, including Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. All of us are champions and leaders, working to multiply the momentum for girls’ education in Africa.

Ploughing back the benefits of our education

In fact, upon completion of secondary education, many CAMA members are returning to their local schools as Learner Guides – role models and mentors to vulnerable students, leading them through a life skills curriculum called My Better World. In this way we are helping students to overcome their challenges, stay in school, build confidence and improve their academic performance.

Through community meetings, we, CAMA members, also amplify the voices of invisible girls. We emphasize the need to break down the barriers to girls’ access to education. Our areas of focus are mainly social justice/child rights, child protection and adolescent sexual reproductive health.

During the meetings, parents gather to discuss how girls can best be kept in school and how we can step in to ensure that more girls are in school and learning. Parents make pledges to unite with us to ensure donations are made, children are fed and their academic needs are met.

Within the last year, I have met over 400 parents who are willing to engage.

Community meetings can also lead to home visits and concrete action on behalf of girls who became child brides. We work with stakeholders such as local leaders, parents, police and community members to help advocate for those in need and respond to cases of abuse.

We conduct trainings and educate the community on health-related issues, with an emphasis on adolescent sexual and reproductive health for both school-going and out-of-school children. We endeavor to reach girls between the ages of 12 and 18, who have been married off, putting them in touch with stakeholders who are specialized in areas of health, justice, and social welfare.

With tears in their eyes, girls often express how they had hoped for a better future.
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Alice (in blue) with six of the many students she has directly supported through school
CREDIT: Eliza Powell/CAMFED

We also engage the government through meetings, trainings, and sharing real life stories of the impact of our work. We identify the key issues that are keeping girls out of school and explore with representatives of the ministry of Education how we can best work together to address them.

From advocacy to action

I also take time to conduct mentoring sessions at my former secondary school to support girls to gain life skills. In two years I have met over 500 students. I provide motivational talks and career guidance which helps them to widen their horizons.

Along with the other CAMA members, I visit schools to meet school club representatives who speak out about the rights of children and create platforms of communication among themselves, using meetings, debates, and drama as a way of disseminating information.

Depending on the area of focus and sensitivity of the issue, I conduct individual and group counselling and mentorship sessions. This helps girls in school deal with some of their traumatic experiences and gives them room to openly express themselves. Around two girls out of five claim they have been abused and had no one to talk to. They needed my help.

Advocacy is key. I have advocated through presentations on radio, TV, meetings, and global events, for example the annual United Nation Girls’ Educate Initiative (UNGEI) Global Advisory Committee meeting, at which I have represented youth for over 3 years.

Advocacy triggers action and this is manifested in philanthropic work, such as paying school fees and providing school tuition or materials for girls in need.

So far, I have used the funds generated through the small poultry farming business I set up to provide children from my community with the support they need to stay in school and succeed.

To date, I have supported 11 girls and a boy through school. I cover their school fees, stationery and uniforms, as well as providing shelter for two girls. Memory, who is the eldest, graduates this year and has proven to be an outstanding student.

These are girls who have grown up in extreme poverty and have survived early marriages and all forms of hardship and rejection.

Working with youth networks has enabled me to contribute to events, exhibitions, and outreach activities. CAMA is a network that has helped nurture my development. It is a supportive sisterhood providing peer-to-peer mentoring, with a shared commitment to supporting more vulnerable children.

The network promotes positive community change to both boys and girls through philanthropy, advocacy and child protection.

It’s the little things we do that contribute to the wider impact.

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Love to you and your good work in the world, Alice. You touch our lives around the globe. One world.

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