In Idugo, as in most remote parts of Mozambique, the future of girls is bleak. Schooling for all children is simply not affordable and boys are invariably given priority over girls. Girls must work to earn their keep. Instead of going to school, they are expected to work in the fields and contribute in other ways to increasing the meagre family income. By the time they reach adolescence, many girls end up getting pregnant and at risk of contracting HIV. Teenage mothers and their children face increasing hardship and the cycle of poverty and disadvantage continues.
The Zalala Foundation is working closely with girls and communities to end this cycle of poverty and open up new horizons for girls in Idugo. GIRL MOVE, translated as MOVIMIENTO M is a network of organisations working to promote empowerment and education for the poorest and most excluded girls and young women. The network is made up of over 40 organisations from all over Mozambique. Zambezia Province is represented by the Zalala Foundation and World Vision. Members of the network meet regularly to exchange materials and methodological approaches and share their experiences of working with young girls. A key focus of Girl Move is to encourage girls to go to school and complete their schooling. As reported under the Education section of this website, the project has been extremely successful. School attendance of girls has risen steeply and parents’ attitudes have been transformed as they too have recognised the importance of education.
USING DRAMA TO GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS
Animated by their sense of empowerment, girls and also boys have clubbed together to find ways to get the message across to other girls and to older members of the community. They have developed several dramas to communicate key messages – such as the importance of school and the value of self-development. In the case of the former, a boy and a girl try to persuade two girls to go to school. The girls say its a waste of time and prefer to go out dancing and drinking. One gets pregnant and suffers a miscarriage. Things go steadily downhill and they recognise their mistake and regret their choice. The drama has been performed in public and has had a strong impact on girls, boys, parents, teachers and the community elders.
GIRLS ELECTED AS DEPUTIES OF CHILDREN’S PARLIAMENT
As reported in another section of this website, the Foundation has supported the training of both girls and boys from Idugo and also Supinho to enable them to be represented in the District Children’s Parliament, where they will learn about legislation affecting their lives and have a chance to express their views to the national Mozambican parliament. At the first training session, elections were held and two girls were elected as Vice-Presidents of the Parliament!
LEARNING NEW SKILLS
As well as recognising the importance of school, girls are keen to acquire skills to enable them to earn money for themselves and their families. At the beginning of 2019, a group of 10 girls and boys from Idugo spent 3 months in Supinho attending a sewing training and learn to sew clothes, bags, toys and school uniforms. During this training, arrangements were made by the school authorities (mediated by the Zalala Foundation) to enable them to attend classes at Supinho, thereby ensuring they do not miss out on any of the school curriculum during their sewing training. The hard work and enthusiasm of the Idugo schoolchildren reaped impressive results. After just a few months of training, these young girls and boys are able to produce beautifully made shirts, skirts and other clothes for men, women and children! At the graduation ceremony, all students received certificates and the best students received a sewing kit comprising fabric, scissors, needles, threat and a tape measure. They also demonstrated impressive organisational capacities and have therefore been rewarded with 2 sewing machines to enable them to start up their own group in Idugo and train others too.
A YOUTH-RUN GARMENT BUSINESS FOR THE VILLAGE!
After just a few months of training, the group of 7 returned to Idugo eager to start up their own business. They make shirts, dresses, skirts and trousers and have even designed some new outfits, such as the beautiful trouser suit worn by Liliana, one of the leaders and shining stars of the group. On my last visit to Idugo, she presented me with a beautiful dress she made! For the time being, the girls are working under the mango tree, but once the new Community Centre has been built, they will move there. They are also making school uniforms. However, many families can not afford them so the Zalala Foundation is planning to subsidise the cost, initially prioritising orphaned children who are the most disadvantaged.
INTENSIFICATION OF EMPOWERMENT TRAINING
At the beginning of 2021, an intensive programme aimed at reinforcing the process of empowerment of girls and also boys in Idugo and Supinho was approved for funding by Irish Aid. Key components of the programme are:
Awareness-raising and education – on the rights of the child (focussing on girls), HIV/AIDS awareness, sex education, nutrition, the role of the Children’s Parliament, and more
Organisational management skills – including leadership roles, agenda-setting, financial accountability
Skills development –ongoing support with sewing training and other income-generation activities.
GIRLS SPEAKING OUT
In early July 2021, representatives of the Girls Group, ORIS, addressed an audience of district government representatives from the Education, Health and other Ministries to make known their demands from the Government of Mozambique. One by one, they spoke about the problems they face and the failures at all levels of officialdom to fulfil their duties towards children and young people.
Most of the issues raised by the children relate to schooling and education:
Teacher absenteeism – most teachers only appear at school from Tuesday to Thursday so the school curriculum is not fully covered and pupils are missing out on their education.
Teacher alcoholism: many teachers, including the Idugo School Director, show up drunk most days.
Sexual abuse of schoolgirls: many girls reported having been sexually abused
Lack of drinking water at school: this was raised by girls from Supinho where the water pump has not been repaired for years.
Accidents on the way to school: children have to cross a small bridge to get from the village to the school in Supinho, which is very unstable and children have fallen and been injured as a result.
Lack of a secondary school: neither Idugo nor Supinho have a secondary school.
Lack of transport to nearby secondary school: a boat intended to transport pupils to Macuse where there is a secondary school has been in disrepair for years. Consequently, children have to leave home and attend school in other districts, which is costly. So very few are able to continue their education.
Parental denial of girls’ right to education: some parents are still putting pressure on girls to get married early despite laws which prohibit underage marriage.
Concerns about erosion: another issue raised was concerns about the destruction of the mangroves, which poses a serious threat from erosion to the island of Idugo.
FEARLESS, EMPOWERED AND UNSTOPPABLE
The boldness and fearlessness of the young girls and boys in raising these issues in the presence of community leaders, government representatives, the school Director and other figures of authority and in the presence of local and national media is remarkable.
Their courage and conviction is evidence of the impact of the Girls Empowerment Programme that has been led by the Zalala Foundation over the last months, supported by funding from Irish Aid. Under this programme, the members of ORIS have been attending regular training workshops and seminars led by members of the Quelimane Children’s Parliament and by members of ARZ, the Girls Association of Quelimane.
THE AUTHORITIES RESPOND WITH ACTION
The testimonies and accusations of the young girls and boys reflect failures at all levels of government, including the failure to carry out school inspections as required by law and the failure to protect the rights of girls against sexual abuse and forced marriage. Faced with these charges, the response of the local leaders and district authorities was rapid.
HELP US TO SUPPORT THESE GIRLS!
As clearly shown by their actions, this project has already transformed the lives of the girls in this community. Their capacities and newfound ambition have no bounds! Please help us to enable them to keep progressing on their journey to a brighter future. We need your support to enable us to provide more sewing machines, train more girls, provide more school kits and uniforms, support the girl deputies in the Children’s Parliament and fund additional training and networking opportunities. Please make a donation!