A phrase synonymous with the Spice Girls in the 90s, but what does it mean in 2016 for girls around the world?
Back in July Victoria Beckham shared a video on her social media which asked: what is it that we want, that we really really want? No more child marriage? No more gender violence? An education for girls? The video has been shared over 700,000 times and has been watched over 56 million times, with a reach far greater than anticipated will we see a united effort to combat these problems this International Day of the Girl? Compared to the 90s we are seeing progression – two and a half times more girls are now enrolled in education, and two thirds of the world’s countries now see the same number of girls and boys enrolled in primary school. However, 62 million girls aged 6-15 are still not in school and 16 million of these girls will never get the opportunity to receive an education – a staggering amount, and double that of boys in the same position.
Beyoncé sang about how girls run the world and whether we listen to her or not, she has a point. Educating women has the potential to change the world astronomically; it can decrease poverty, maternal mortality, infant mortality and child marriage. Poverty remains the biggest factor in keeping girls out of school and there are many barriers which prevent girls being in education, namely having to work at home, being married at an early age, the distance and even a lack of simple amenities such as private female toilets.
In a world where people are standing up to take notice of the abuses that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as child marriage, even the most isolated parts of the world are making a change. When girls are forced to marry, their lives are no longer their own to live. They are forced to drop out of school, often becoming mothers before their bodies are ready – girls under 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their twenties, they must leave their families to live with their new husband and typically also his parents. They become tied to a life of domestic labour, childbearing and poverty.
If all girls finished primary school, maternal deaths would be cut by 70%
and further still, if all girls finished secondary school, child deaths would be halved.
Educated women are a force to be reckoned with, empowered to have their own voice in their household, they are more likely to have healthier and fewer children, to have them later in life and send them to school. Educated women earn higher incomes, participate more in the formal labour market and marry at a later age, all of which help to lift households out of poverty whilst contributing to the economy.
Northern Ghana is refusing to be left behind in the global movement to improve the lives for girls and women and AfriKids is specifically working to reduce child marriage with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the Department for International Development. We recently launched a new project to tackle the issue of child marriage, whilst promoting education and safe places for girls to seek advice surrounding this issue. Where we work, up to half of the female population are at risk of being married before they reach 18, generally forced to marry older men by parents who have not been educated on the reasons why this should not and cannot happen. Child marriage diminishes the educated female population, especially in rural areas where it is already difficult to access formal employment, but near impossible without an education. It takes the lives of mothers leaving many babies without food, as formula milk is a luxury few can afford, and it takes the lives of babies and children.
We’re working to unleash girl power for the female population across northern Ghana, to allow them to stand up for what they believe in, to make the choice when to marry, to remain in school and to lead a life dictated by themselves with the opportunity to make a good living. This may sound like a task too big for the small charity that we are, but the tricky task of changing traditional local attitudes and practices which are harmful to children is something we are becoming best known for. A decade of work tackling the “Spirit Child Phenomenon” has seen unprecedented results where others have failed and attracted international attention. The traditional belief in “spirit children” sees misfortunate children (usually those with misunderstood disabilities or mothers who die in childbirth) identified as evil spirits who must be absolved in order to protect the greater good, resulting in abuse, neglect and even the killing of babies and children. Our sensitive approach, led entirely by our local team in Ghana, has now abolished this harmful practice from seven communities and is on a mission to eradicate it from northern Ghana completely.
It is this proven method that we are using to tackle the issue of child marriage. Whilst it isn’t difficult to find support for this work, actually tackling the issue head on is a complex business which takes time, trust and respect – a combination that we are committed to investing in until the job is done.
A huge thank you to all those at Alpha FMC who took part in the 3 Peaks Challenge a few weekends ago. The team have raised an impressive £2,114 so far to support our work in Ghana, as part of our current partnership with the Global Financial Markets Consultancy. Here Alex Bowie, a consultant who took part in the challenge, gives you a taste of what it was all about:
The Three Peaks Challenge is one of the UK’s toughest endurance challenges which involves climbing the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales back-to-back, including a night ascent of Scafell Pike in the Lake District:
- Ben Nevis, in Scotland (1344m)
- Scafell Pike, in England (978m)
- Snowdon, in Wales (1085m)
For our team of 14 challengers departing from London and Edinburgh, the challenge included travelling over 1000 miles in our two 7 seater Ford Galaxy vehicles (rated family car of the year 2010) over the course of the weekend, hiking the distance equivalent to a marathon (42km) and covering over 3000m of ascent, all within c. 24 hours, give or take some transport delays.
The challenge was really tough – as the team neared the summit of Ben Nevis the wind and damp mist pushed the ‘real feel’ temperature including wind chill below freezing with any bare skin feeling ice cold in seconds. The weather cleared further down the mountain and it was pleasantly warm by the time we reached the cars at the end of the first climb. After a quick turnaround (ok, maybe 20 minutes of ‘Alpha faff’ too) we jumped into the vehicles and hit the road for Carlisle where we would collect Alex G and Charlotte for the final two peaks; them having completed an equivalently tough peak in Penrith that morning…
In darkness we began the ascent of Scafell Pike around 10pm, and took pleasure in overtaking a number of other groups as we completed the ascent in under two hours while watching trains of torch lights following us up the mountain from other groups. We descended as the mist blew in and pushed on to arrive back at the vehicles by 2am – time for a quick nap while the drivers pushed through the night to take us to Mount Snowdon as the sun was rising through North Wales.
After our 4th (or 5th ?!) McDonald’s of the weekend we arrived at Snowdon with tired legs and a number of niggling strains and injuries but in good spirits – the sun was shining and it was our final peak! The group pushed on, opting for the flatter Miners Track to begin with before ascending steeply to the summit – again, covered in mist and cold we descended slowly with tired legs but were rewarded with a fantastic and clear view of Snowdon further down the mountain before returning to the vehicles for the long journey home.
Thank you to everyone who has sponsored us, we are very grateful for your support. For anyone who would still like to donate and support such a great cause, our fundraising page is still live at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Alpha-FMC1
The AfriKids 3 Peaks Challenge Team consisted of Alex Bowie, Alex Davies, Alex Glaister, Anthony Boakye-Mensah, Andrew Mason, Andreas Nystrom, Ben Elvidge, Charles Rabier, Charlotte Close-Smith, David Cox, Dom Locket, Khati Norakidze, Tim Quaye and Ed Gutierrez (our mountain guide).
We would like to say a special thank you to our drivers Ben Elvidge and Andrew Mason who did an incredible job driving unfamiliar vehicles on unfamiliar roads for over 1000 miles. Rumour has it that Andrew has already pre-ordered a Ford Galaxy for his next adventure …
AfriKids works every day to tackle a number of pressing issues in northern Ghana with a team of 117 dedicated local staff. But with over 26 projects running across sixteen districts we rely on local heroes in the community to champion our work, volunteering their time to help us achieve lasting change.
Queue the Community Health Campaigners – supporting AfriKids to end child marriage in northern Ghana for good.
Last year we launched an initiative to get more girls into school, bring down teenage pregnancy and see an end to child marriage in the areas we work. With up to 50% of young women recording that they married under the age of 18, AfriKids recognised the urgent need for something to change. With funding from the UK government’s Department for International Development and support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, work began.
But none of this would be possible without support from campaigners within the local communities. Crucial support from people who truly believe that there is a need for change and who are willing to question damaging traditional attitudes in their communities to promote a better understanding of issues arising from teenage pregnancy and child marriage, such as girls being held back from accessing an education. This work is therefore not only protecting girls and their health but enabling them to become active, productive members of their society, which in turn helps to lift their communities as a whole out of poverty.
Whilst it is rewarding work, to see the positive development of your own local community, it is not without its challenges; however AfriKids have been overwhelmed by the dedication and commitment of these local heroes. Outside of their everyday jobs, whether a farmer, teacher or hairdresser, they are advocates of girls’ rights fighting against forced marriage and underage pregnancy to promote an environment where girls will have more choice over if, and when, to marry and have children.
This is an incredibly important step towards ensuring that girls stay in school, giving them a better chance of building their own independent future. The Community Health Campaigners spend time in schools and communities providing educational workshops for both girls and importantly boys, on contraception, sexual health and sex education.
Giving children and young adults access to a better understanding of this subject, which is often considered too much of a taboo to discuss amongst families, may seem simple but we’re already seeing effective results! This is how locally led development is changing the face of aid.
A huge thank you to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for making this possible.
“I am determined to complete my training and establish my own business so that my child can have the education I did not get”
Education offers one of the best opportunities for ending the vicious cycle of poverty. AfriKids’ Transforming Futures project is opening doors for underprivileged, talented and ambitious young people who would otherwise be unable to go to school, access vocational training or continue their higher education because their families are held back by poverty. Elizabeth has been given a life changing opportunity through this project and here’s her story.
Elizabeth’s childhood Elizabeth sadly lost her father at the age of three. Her mother, a subsistence farmer by trade, was left to look after all of her children on her small and unpredictable income. Elizabeth’s mother really struggled to take care of her family’s needs; she found it difficult to provide three meals a day for them let alone pay for uniforms and books so they could go to school. An education for her children seemed like an unattainable dream. Their situation worsened when their home collapsed in poor weather, leaving them with no security at all. It was at this point that Elizabeth and her sisters, like many other young children from struggling families, took the decision to travel south in search of earning a better income. Growing up fast But life in the south was far from easy. Elizabeth was forced to live with a young man to secure a roof over her head and she soon became pregnant. Soon after the baby was born, he was killed in a car accident and Elizabeth had little choice but to return to Bolgatanga, the largest city in the region, with her new baby; her life as a single, sixteen year old mother had become too difficult with no family support. The future’s bright With little education to aid her in securing a job, Elizabeth was determined to learn a trade that would help her to generate an income and better provide for her child. She has since started training as a seamstress with support from AfriKids to pay her training fees and buy her equipment. She is excited to complete her training so that she will be able to provide her child with the education that she never had. Her trainer has been extremely impressed with her work, expressing that Elizabeth is eager to learn and has progressed very fast, being able to sew her own uniform within just three months! Read more about the Transforming Futures programme here.
From a young age Simon’s family life was very difficult. He had been left in the care of his father who struggled with addiction, and with little hope of going to school or having enough to eat Simon took to the streets of the nearby city, Bolgatanga, northern Ghana, in an effort to make a life for himself and survive.
Life on the streets
Simon headed to the Bolgatanga lorry park, a local transit hub, where many street children attempt to earn a living, loading and unloading lorries for small “chop money” for food. On the day he arrived he was welcomed by a boy who helped him find a small space in front of a shop to sleep for the night and shared his food with Simon.
Simon lived and worked at the lorry park for six months however this lifestyle provides little hope for a child’s future with no education and few opportunities to break out of the cycle of poverty. A team of AfriKids outreach workers who were visiting the lorry park drew Simon’s attention to The School of Night Rabbits project and he immediately saw his opportunity to make a change.
The School of Night Rabbits
The project provides street children like Simon with the chance to attend evening classes in basic literacy and numeracy so they can return to formal school. The classes are a key stepping stone for these children and an opportunity to continue their education, whilst being provided with nutritious meals, somewhere to wash and access to free quality healthcare.
A child studying at the School of Night Rabbits
Simon worked hard at the School of Night Rabbits turning up whenever he could and always impressing the teachers with his commitment and effort. He was clearly passionate about his education and was therefore awarded sponsorship to return to formal school and continue his learning.
This vital support gave Simon the opportunity to make something of his hardworking attitude and after completing school he went on to become the apprentice to a motor mechanic, building key trade skills which he can use in the future to provide for himself and a family.
Simon working as a motor mechanic
According to the UN there are around 150 million children across the globe living or working on the streets today.
AfriKids is working to support those, like Simon, that find themselves on the streets of Bolgatanga and its surrounding area. Many forced to live and work in unsafe conditions because their families live in extreme poverty and find it hard to properly provide for them.
Life on the streets is a childhood that no one would wish for their child – sleeping rough in unsafe areas, begging for money or partaking in dangerous activities to earn enough to feed themselves. The street children AfriKids supports rarely have access to an education or healthcare meaning they have little hope for the future.
This week, as millions of people speak out about the rights of street children, AfriKids will be working to help children in the Bolgatanga area to get off the streets. We offer them a safe place to sleep at the Next Generation Home, help them back into education through the School of Night Rabbits, give them access to healthcare at the AfriKids Medical Centre and resettle them with family members where possible to ensure that they’re off the streets for good.
AfriKids is supporting children like Simon to help them to leave their lives on the streets and have the opportunity to build a future.
To read more about the School of Night Rabbits have a look on our website here: http://www.afrikids.org/sonr