UNICEF has declared the theme for the 2019 International Day of the Girl to be ‘Girlforce: Unscripted and Unstoppable’. On a day intended to celebrate achievements made by girls around the world in their fight to have their voices heard and their rights respected, Help Lesotho’s ‘GIRL4ce’ program could not be a better fit to exemplify on this occasion.
Four years ago, Help Lesotho collaborated with a group of 25 youth from rural communities. The youth were challenged to create an edu-tainment program (an educational program delivered through various means of entertainment) to raise awareness about two of the biggest issues facing girls in Lesotho (and in many low-income countries around the world) – gender-based violence and child-early-and-forced marriage. Both of these practices rob girls of their futures by taking away their decision making power (girls are often forced to abandon their education and dreams of employment), harming their health (e.g. early pregnancy and HIV-transmission), and perpetuating the cycle of violence and poverty.
With great deliberation and extraordinary passion, the youth were soon ready to start performing their edu-tainment program aptly called ‘GIRL4ce’. The group wrote powerful songs, moving poems and a drama that quickly became their signature performance. This drama takes the audience on a journey that follows a young high school girl who is forced to quit school to marry a man of her parents’ choosing. The performers end the drama by revisiting all the roles represented in the play and what they could have done differently to act responsibly to protect the young girl. Her teacher could have spoken up. Her parents could have valued her education and her opinions. The young man could have found a woman who wanted to be with him. Community members could have defended the girl’s right to refuse early marriage. Although funny at times, by the end almost all audience members are brought to tears. For far too many people, the drama hits very close to home.
One young man, Mokoena, who is a GIRL4ce performer said,
“I joined the GIRL4ce movement and it totally changed my mindset towards women and girls. I started being proud to stand against the violence they face and be an advocate to proudly speak for their rights and support them in raising their voices. I learned that everyone who sees an abuse but fail to report is an abuser too.”
GIRL4ce has performed for over 15,000 students, villagers and government members. Its members remain passionate about using their performances to raise awareness about these important issues in rural Lesotho communities. GIRL4ce is delivering messages that literally save the lives and futures of hundreds of vulnerable girls – to community members who are largely unaware that normalizing these practices causes such harm. Performances and discussions they lead to afterward squarely place the responsibility to stop these practices on individuals and communities themselves. The take-home message is clear – if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!
GIRL4ce is indeed a Girlforce, and they are unstoppable!
It is early in the morning as I write and I hear a gentle rain falling on the tin roof – what a wonderful sound. There is so much going on here I am tripping over myself to describe the activities clearly.
Help Lesotho is stepping up its efforts to reach more people and provide more leadership opportunities for our beneficiaries to run public events and activities. One such initiative is the formation of a national Grandmother Network, with Help Lesotho as chair to guide the development of the network.
Another initiative is the GIRL4ce Movement, planned and run by girls and boys with older youth mentoring the younger ones in leadership. The focus of the movement is to educate and encourage thousands of youth in learning about and practicing human rights, gender equity, HIV prevention and ending unhealthy practices such as child early and forced marriage (CEFM) and gender-based violence (GBV). The girls and boys in the movement’s leadership have been meeting on weekends to plan and prepare various advocacy activities. The girls have even trained police officers!
The GIRL4ce Movement has conducted massive activities in three locations over the past two-week period, with the expectation of reaching 2,000 youth, teachers and community members to advocate against CEFM and GBV.
Many of our graduates who are members of Help Lesotho’s Alumni Association are committed to helping execute these activities, which include songs, poems, and speeches. At Hlotse High School, the target was 400 participants. Nearly 500 primary and secondary students came!
Last Sunday, a church service was planned by the GIRL4ce young leaders to talk about these issues, pray for victims of gender-based and sexual violence, and have a moment of silence with participants holding lit candles to remember and honour the victims.
The best laid plans – the school auditorium reserved for the service was double booked and the entire group had to walk 30-45 minutes (depending on your speed!) to our Centre.And they came – close to 300 participants!! The grandmothers were seated in the place of honour at the front. I was just thrilled to chat to the priest beforehand to know what he was going to say and I learned that he is a graduate of our Leaders-in-Training program last year! He loved it. The messages spreads!
After the three-hour service, the grannies went by themselves to form a circle on the property and sang and danced by themselves for 20 minutes. Gosh they are adorable! They encouraged the youth to care for one another and stop this violence against girls.
A similar event was held in the village of Pitseng, again using the school auditorium on Saturday for 500 youth. The next day there was a community walk from the village of Pontmain to our little Centre that attracted 400 community members. The activities were then repeated in Butha Buthe district reaching an additional 600-800 people. Youth were in charge of all these activities as they publicly stood up to protest against early and forced marriage and gender based violence.
It is wonderful see these young boys and girls talking to their peers and community members about such important issues that affect them all. These activities are not merely educational – they are therapeutic. Estimates vary but even among boys and grannies the level of abuse is staggering. At these events, the participants hear clearly that someone notices them, that what they are experiencing is wrong, that they do not deserve this and that it is not their fault. Somebody cares. Somebody expects this to stop. Young people are going to step up and speak out until it does. These events matter!
There is so much excitement in our office about upcoming projects. In the coming months, we will:
Hopefully distribute 2,000 solar lights to vulnerable students who need light in order to do their homework!
You have likely heard about this solar light campaign since Giving Tuesday in early December.
We are only $3,100 away from our target of $30,000 to make this project a reality!
I love to think of students turning on their solar-charged lights for the first time as they sit down to read, solve math equations, and practice their writing skills. I have been in so many huts that have little or no light. How can these kids pass when there is no option to read or study at home after chores? Such a simple thing but beyond the reach of our students.
Thank you for the encouraging notes and emails – they mean a lot and I love touching base with you – even in a few lines.