Girls in the refugee settlements have been affected by lack of economic resources, early marriages, early pregnancies, lack of role models, or the view of schools as unsafe environments. These reasons have in many occasions hindered girls from attaining their learning outcomes. In response to the predicament faced by girls in the refugee and host communities’ settings in Kalobeyei, Africa’s Voices undertook a community engagement and mentorship activities anchored on interactive radio programming to provide life skills through positive modelling and mentorship approaches.
With support from Windle International Kenya (WIK), AVF carried out detailed interviews and recruited mentors who had a good understanding of child protection guidelines and expertise to positively engage the young girls. The mentors guided the girls in developing their confidence to be able to speak for themselves while boosting their understanding of their rights. The social mentors were experienced social workers who have worked on projects in the same locations aiming at empowering girls and advocating for equal rights for both boys and girls.
The mentorship approach was aimed at building girls' (12-17 years) knowledge of the risks they are exposed to, and build individual and collective efficacy in protecting and standing up for themselves. The mentorship aspect also guided them to undertake different forms of activities to help them stay positively engaged as they go through education. Through meaningful interactions, the sessions guided girls towards building life skills and making informed choices as they navigate everyday life in their community. The mentorship programmes also provided a space for mentors to facilitate follow up discussions that not only contributed to content creation for the weekly shows aired on BINTI IMARA programme on REF FM but also enabled girls to share different thoughts on issues affecting them.
To understand the impact of the mentorship programme, AVF interviewed some of the girls who took part in the programmes. AVF also interviewed boys who were part of the listening groups. The ones selected for the success stories were the ones whose contributions during the radio listening groups were most significant.They were also most interested and willing to share their views.
The selection was done with the help of the mentors and parental consent was sought before seeking consent from the girls. The names have been replaced with pseudonyms so that the participants are not identifiable.
The participants who consented were interviewed by the mentors and their views recorded. These were later transcribed by AVF and translated into English to come up with the report.
Based on the case studies, the mentorship program has contributed to the knowledge of girls about their rights as well as their efficacy on decisions that affect their lives. The mentors also played a pivotal role in equipping girls with skills and knowledge they need on a day to day basis to counter some of the stereotypes and negative cultural norms hindering girls’ access to education and some of the challenges they face to be able to attain their goals in life.
In accordance with AVF’s data protection policy all names used in the case studies are pseudonyms and not real names.
Jane, a 14-year-old grade 5 student at a primary school in the area was one of the beneficiaries of the mentorship sessions. She is a Congolese refugee. Jane confirmed that girls in Kalobeyei face a lot of challenges. She mentioned the issue of girls being harassed by boys and the unintended pregnancies that they get mostly as a result of poverty. This, she mentioned, is always more common when the schools are closed. She directly linked the early pregnancies to the rampant poverty in the community that leads to their inability to afford basic needs such as sanitary ware, under garments and uniform.
Poverty and lack of basic needs still push a number of girls into early pregnancies and consequently dropping out of school. The parents, however, have a big role to play since most girls depend on them for provisions such as sanitary pads, school uniform or school fees. When parents are unable to provide these items, some girls seek them out from others and in the process some get raped and subsequently they become pregnant.
Others say when they ask from their parents they do not get it hence they go out and get pregnant while looking for such items.
The mentorship sessions made Jane more motivated and now she believes that when she goes home she will be resourceful to her peers. She says that with the new knowledge, she is now able to share with other girls so that they can also be confident girls as they pursue their studies.
Jane however mentioned that in future, the organizers should provide sanitary items since their needs are many and they cannot afford all of them with the little amount of money they have.
We need girls’ sanitary materials. If they are included the girls will be more motivated to attend the training and mentorship programmes.
Mary, a 17-year-old grade 8 candidate who is just days away from her national exams and who feels the mentorship programme shouldn’t just end with the five shows. She thinks it should continue because the few days were not enough and there is more that they are yet to learn from the social workers and mentors.
In addition, she thinks that teachers, especially female teachers, should be close to the girls since they identify more with and understand their challenges. The girls should therefore be more confident approaching them. In respect to the benefits the mentorship sessions have had on the girls, Mary feels they were helpful in improving her confidence and how to manage resources:
I have learnt a lot. I have learnt to take care of myself and be confident and also how to take care of my money once I get it.
Many of the boys are willing to support and encourage their sisters to ensure they pursue their studies despite the negative norms that have persisted and continue to hinder their access to education. The boys are also aware that the domestic chore burden negatively affects the girls and ought to be addressed from the family.
The role boys play in the drive to have girls stay in school could not have been put better by Keith, a male student who attends secondary school. Having been one of the male participants, Keith was thankful for having learnt how to encourage not only his sisters but also other girls in the community. Keith referred to the “African tradition” that relegates girls at home as boys go to school as one of the retrogressive cultural practices that denies girls the right to education.
From my side, what I would tell the programme is to advise our parents to tell their children to go to school and not only boys but everyone. The way to strand with the parents is to tell them what you can achieve after completing education. Show that this is what you can achieve after education.
Voices from the camp
Now that we have finished the mentorship programmes, when I go home I will help other girls. As girls we always tell stories and discuss amongst ourselves. Myself with the information I have been taught, I will be able to share with them,impart on them and from that they will be upright and confident girls.
We have gone through this programme. It was really effective. I have learnt how to encourage my sisters or other girls in the community in education. In African tradition, most communities say girls should remain at home as boys go to school. This is not right as per what I have learnt through this programme. I have learnt that both girls and boys should go to school for their future life. I have learnt how to encourage my sisters or other girls in the community because what our parents have been telling us that girls are not supposed to be is school is not right. There is no one who should remain at home.