“Girl Force: Unscripted and unstoppable" is the theme for the 2019 International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11.
To live unscripted and unstoppable dreams, CARE International supports girls around the world by providing education, protection from gender-based violence, psycho social support and livelihoods training.
Ten-year-old Damary lives in Venezuela, but every day she crosses the border into Colombia to go to school. Her mother doesn’t have papers to cross with her, so Damary must make the long and dangerous journey by herself.
“They don’t let my mommy cross anymore. They deported her. She has been sending me over alone,” Damary says.
A near-total collapse of infrastructure in the country has left 90% of Venezuelans living below the poverty line. People are starving and kids across the country are missing out on their educations. More than 4.3 million people have fled as a result. Those who remain face a crumbling health system and shortages of basic necessities.
Human trafficking and exploitation pose serious threats to girls like Damary. Border crossings like the one Damary crosses to get to school are particularly dangerous places for sexual abuse and assault.
“There are lots of risks,” Damary says. “My mommy tells me not to take anything from anyone.”
Around the world, women and girls confront unique barriers for everything from earning a living to attending school. In the midst of humanitarian crises like Venezuela’s girls are even more likely to be left behind.
War is hard for everybody, but it is infinitely harder on children. Their hopes and dreams are quite simple: a new toy, a cone of strawberry ice cream, playing outdoors or even going to school, but for millions of children across Yemen, they seem like impossible dreams. This is the case for Amaal, a ten-year-old Yemeni girl whose family, like thousands of others, had to flee Hodeidah because of the war.
Amaal and her family finally settled in Al Buraiqah district of Aden. They live in an old wooden house that they now call home, but they have no income and little hope. “Our life is hard here but it’s better than watching my own children die in front of me,” says Amaal’s father Fahd, his eyes fixed to the ground in despair. “I am very sad I can’t send Amaal and her siblings to school. I just can’t afford it.”
Image 1: Amaal outside her family’s house
Amaal’s heart was broken when schools opened and she knew she couldn’t join the other girls. “I sit by our door and wait to see the girls walk home with their beautiful uniforms,” she says. “I know my father can’t afford it.” But this didn’t stop the determined young Amaal – she still goes to the nearby mosque to join the Quran reciting lessons.
Amaal first saw CARE’s project team in Al Buraiqah last September, working on a project funded by the Crisis and Support Centre. CARE was providing internally displaced people (IDPs) with hygiene kits containing soap, laundry powder and other basic items; as well as conducting hygiene awareness sessions to educate people about how they can prevent diarrhea and eliminate the spread of cholera.
As CARE’s staff worked on the project, Amaal watched them doing their job and then began to help them. First of all she helped the team to identify IDPs’ houses in the area, which gave her a chance to learn the hygiene messages. Then she started to copy the project team and began to teach other children the simple things she had learned, like how to wash their hands.
Image 2: Amaal demonstrates good hygiene practices to other children
People really loved her, and this gave Amaal the hope and support she needed. “Now I can speak to the other children without feeling ashamed of myself,” she says. Everyone was fascinated by Amaal’s strong will and the dedication they saw in a ten-year-old.
“I can’t wait now to go back home to my old school to finish my studies,” she says confidently. “Because I want to be a doctor in the future and cure diseases.”
It is very fitting that Amaal’s name means ‘hope’ in Arabic.
Evone (not real name) is a 15-year-old orphan from Mombasa in Kyangwali settlement. Since March 2019, she stays with her grandparents.
We stay in a tent with a big garden and lots of roses, because my grandmother loves the smell of roses. I realized through girls at the neighborhood that at CARE Women and Youth Center, there are interventions funded by European Union Civil protection and Humanitarian Aid that help girls build their esteem through life skills.
Despite the CARE Women and Youth Center being a two-minute walk away from our home, my grandfather, who used to work back in DRC as a businessman, taught me to stay at home, how to cook, support my siblings, and dig around the homestead. He taught me how to read and sing and said that he never wanted me to move out even when I could have loved to go to play football with my friends and interact with others at the CARE Women and Youth Center.
However, one-day CARE staff organized a sensitization meeting at the Women and Youth Center regarding the Girl Shine Program roll out in Mombasa which my grandfather attended and upon returning from the meeting, he changed his perception. He asked my cousin and I to be going to CARE Women and Youth Information Center in Mombasa where we got enrolled for the Girl Shine sessions.
The Girl Shine model is an International Rescue Committee model that brings together girls of same age to discuss issues regarding their health and how to respond to situations in a bid to avert gender-based violence. The model focuses on building confidence in girls and instills life skills that are needed for survival in difficult contexts.
At first, it looked like a waste of time but as we continued with the sessions, “I learnt so much that I even became one of the mentors to the other girls. Through this training, we learnt about our body, trust building, how to deal with peer pressure, understanding gender-based violence, protection from harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse, what we need to do when in dangerous situations, and how to avoid them. Based on the teachings, we have composed some songs in these themes that we normally use for community sensitization and during our peer sessions. I believe, one day, I will go back to school and achieve my dream of being a nurse and a musician”.
I get along well with the other girls in my age group. I am no longer working at home alone. The girls take me for dancing lessons, we learn English, netballing, go-carting, which is a result of CARE organizing a sensitization meeting on the Girl Shine Program that opened my grandfather’s eyes to allow me join the rest of the girls. I continue to look up to my grandfather: he is smart and intelligent; he plays his Congo music. With the mentorship and coaching of our facilitators, I want to work for CARE one day.
In early 2017, the southern Philippines’ city Marawi erupted in violent conflict between the country’s military and pro-Islamic State forces. The violent five-month siege tore apart the city, destroying homes, schools and mosques and initially displacing more than 350,000.
Fourteen-year-old Rasheda fled with her family from Marawi after insurgents attacked.
“My family was really scared,” Rasheda says. “My parents carried my younger brother and sister. We escaped here to Pacalundo camp.”
Today they live about an hour from the city in a tent encampment. The tents, designed to be lived in for only six months, have been the family’s home for two years. Her school was destroyed in the fighting and so were all her documents. This means she can’t attend the nearby school. Instead, she has to travel back to a camp near Marawi where her teachers have erected a new school. But that trip costs money and only allows her to attend school a few days a week.
“I miss my old life,” Rasheda says. “I used to go to school every day, but that’s not possible anymore because we don’t have the money.”
The first things you notice about 17-year-old Grace* are her bright and ready smile and the pretty little rock garden she has built around a tree in the yard. When you hear her story, you wonder how she accomplished either.
Grace is one of more than 838,000 people who have fled civil war in South Sudan since the conflict broke out in December 2013.
Grace lived with her father in the town of Goli. When the war broke out, they ran and hid in the bush to avoid being killed in the crossfire. With no food and hunger gnawing at them, Grace’s father went to look for something to eat. He never came back. Grace found his body at the side of the road where he had been shot in the head.
“I cleaned the blood off his body and cried. I took my shirt and tied it around his head because it was swollen. His body was starting to get rotten and I went and called neighbors,” Grace recalls through tears. “The men came and dug a hole to bury my dad.”
Grace moved in with neighbors after her father’s death. They had a garden that they maintained some distance from the house. Grace would stay home and prepare meals for them in an outdoor kitchen and take to them as they worked.
One day when she was cooking, she saw people coming. She thought it was just the neighbors. By the time she realized who it was, it was too late. “One of the men came and stood in front of me saying, ‘If you shout we will shoot you,’” Grace says.
One of the men raped Grace while another held her at gunpoint and others stole food. Then, just as suddenly as they had arrived, the men departed.
Grace explained to her host family why their food was late. She was told that she should keep her secret because it could cause a problem.
Grace knew she had to leave. She made the decision to escape to Uganda, walking by day and sleeping at night until she got there.
Grace wanted to go back to school, but there aren’t any secondary schools in the area and there was no money to send her, anyway.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant until my stomach became big. That’s when I realized I was pregnant,” Grace says.
Grace gave birth at the settlement health clinic to a healthy baby girl. They live in a refugee tent on a piece of land that was given to her by the government. She receives help from her neighbors, grows her own food and takes care of her baby.
“I bathe her, cook for her, wash her clothes, and stay with her. When I am with her, she does not cry. I also breastfeed her,” Grace says. Still, the pressure on her can take her over.
“When I’m feeling stressed, I go to CARE staff for psychosocial support. When I am worried about my shelter falling down CARE staff tell me they will build me a new shelter. This makes me feel better.”
Tragically, Grace’s story is not unique. But she is one girl who has found her way forward, determined to make a life for herself and her daughter.
*Name has been changed
My name is Marvelous Chimuto, I am 15-year-old girl and I live and learn in Epworth at Young Africa School.
I am the second-born in a family of 6 children, I am the oldest girl. My father is unemployed, and my mother is a vegetable vendor. My mother works hard each day and she struggles to make ends meet to ensure we go to school.
I had my first menstrual encounter when I was 13 years old. I had stomach cramps, and by the time I got to the bathrooms I had spoiled my uniform and that is when the reality of why some girls were giggling and some boys laughing dawned on me.
I cried and when I calmed down, I approached our guidance and counselling teacher. She explained to me what was going on and I had to go home.
“It’s a natural process my dear,” she said. Reassured, I thought all would be well.
The reality is that, two years on, menstruation each month is a challenge for me. We have challenges to get enough food and clothes, and my sanitary needs are not always a priority as we are poor. In the past, I would use old rags and I had to wash them often. After changing I would carry the used rag in my bag the whole day and sometimes the smell would be bad. As a result, I lost confidence and could not freely participate in classes.
Finally, CARE came to the rescue!
CARE supported our guidance and counselling program and developed manuals for us to learn about our bodies and sanitary needs. Thanks to CARE, our school now has stocks of sanitary pads available at school which every girl can access when in need. Our school has even built an incinerator for disposal, so I no longer have to carry used pads in my bag. I feel more confident at school and can now chase my dream of becoming a nurse when I grow up.
Sidal, 12 years old, now lives in North West Syria, close to Idlib. She has been displaced five times since the war broke out in Syria in 2011, when she was only two years old. Due to war and displacement, she was forced to drop out of school for the past three years. In the video, Sidal shares her story and talks about her difficulty she faced in going back to school, but also her determination to continue studying and how she managed to overcome her fear and went back to school in September 2019. Her message to girls around the world, who live in war and displacement conditions, for the International Day of Girl Child: “We have to stand up against all odds because we are still very young and we owe it to ourselves to follow our dreams. We have a long life ahead of us!”
Sidal is supported by Ihsan Relief and Development and CARE International through the organizations’ mobile protection teams in Idlib who offer recreational activities for Syrian children in schools in Idlib.