‘Declining rates of child marriage have been one of the recent success stories of Ethiopia. It has been a combined effort.
The work has been done at the grassroots, and when we talk about women and girls, this is where we have to go.'
These powerful words of Ethiopia’s first ever female President, Sahle-Work Zewde, demonstrate fearlessly her ambition to improve rights for women and girls, and promote female empowerment from within the nation. Grassroots work is crucial in providing sustainable and lasting change. Together with our strategic partners, we are passionate about ensuring that our projects promote this cause, and empower women to change their communities for the better.
Over the last two years, alongside our Charity Partner Plan International UK, measurable grassroots change has been made to the lives of vulnerable children in Gambella's refugee camps, as part of the first phase of a four year project to protect over 30,000 children and give them back the chance to learn.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011. In the six years since, the nation in northeastern Africa has battled to maintain peace, first during an armed conflict with Sudan that ended in 2015, and now during an ongoing violent civil war.
This war has caused more than 1.9 million people to flee the country, making it one of the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world. Neighbouring Ethiopia has opened its borders, and 375,000 from South Sudan are currently living in camps and host communities in the Gambella region. 65% of these are children.
We know that time and time again, in volatile situations the vulnerable are disproportinately affected. This means that with a regional food shortage, vital services like education and child protection are severely limited. A whole generation of children is at risk of losing their chance of a decent future.
Image courtesy of Plan International UK
2 Year Update
The four year project has now reached its half-way point, and it is incredibly encouraging to see this critically important work begin to make some real difference in the lives of thousands of refugee children in Ethiopia. The average time spent in a refugee camp is 17 years; a whole childhood. By supporting this project, the Brides do Good community has helped children in Gambella's camps to feel safe and start learning again.
But we are not complacent. With much more work to be done, we are looking forward to continuing to work alongside our Charity Partners to transform education for many more children, and ensure that the change achieved is realistic and sustainable, long after the project ends.
Mothers in Schools: We’re working with 41 Mothers in Schools, who are supporting girls and encouraging parents to send their daughters to school. The past year saw extra training for 12 of our 41. The training will help the Mothers lead on child protection in their communities, including case handling, providing counselling, mobilising people to help tackle risks to children.
Girl leaders: The project has continued to help refugee girls to get together and support each other through Gender Clubs. The 50 girl leaders chosen last year have now taken part in training on their health and rights, and 25 girls have trained as Gender Champions for their Clubs. The girls will cascade their new knowledge on sexual health, menstrual health, relationships and rights to their Clubs, who will raise awareness in their schools. The project has also provided the girls with packs of sanitary pads to help meet their immediate needs.
Building classrooms and latrines: About half of the construction has been completed in three of the four schools that were selected for extra classrooms and latrines – the foundations and ground works have been completed, which are the bulk of the work. The gender-separated latrines are almost all complete. Construction for the fourth and final school has had to be rescheduled, mainly due to the difficulty of accessing the site and working with the type of soil during the rainy season. Plan International UK has held meetings to inform the community of the change. The project has also secured a promise from the Regional Education Bureau to provide 450 new combination bench and desk sets for the 16 new classrooms.
Quality teacher training: We recognise the importance of quality training for teachers, on issues that affect children both inside and outside the classroom. So far, the project has helped 30 refugee teachers enrol and get started on a three-year teaching diploma course. This life-changing qualification will make sure that schools in the refugee camps can provide quality education to children. Each teacher completing the course will in turn mentor at least five other teachers – totalling 150 qualified teachers in the Gambella refugee camp in the years to come. So far, the project has also trained 67 teachers to give remedial lessons in English, social studies, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. This year, 1,544 children have attended the pilot programme of extra classes, designed to help them get back up to speed with regular lessons.
Bringing communities together: The project continues to seek to provide fun opportunities for children to play, and to ease tensions between host communities and refugees. So far members of both communities have celebrated the Day of the African Child on June 16, and World Refugee Day on June 20 with sports days. About 78 adolescents were provided with new sports kit to compete in football and volleyball games, with around 600 children looking on. Meanwhile, 168 adults took part in dialogues about peaceful co-existence.
16 Month Update
The project was scheduled to launch in March 2018, however due to delays and difficulties within the region, there was a slower start than expected. Most of the planned activies instead begain in November 2018. It is important to us that the projects our donors support are sensitive to the needs of individual communities, allowing extra time and consideration to ensure the success of such a large project.
When launching a project of this scale, reliable support is invaluable. The project began by finalising contracts and research tools with research partners the University of Sussex and Gambella University. With the help of these partners, a needs assessment was carried out in Gambella's host community schools, to identify where we will be working. Through this, target schools were able to be selected - spanning three refugee camps, four host communities, and two large districts. To finalise this planning stage, an important training session on gender and inclusion with the head-teachers and othe key school staff was carried out, to ensure shared aims and objectives.
Mothers in Schools: Ensuring that girls have role models they can identify with is instrumental in inspiring them to take charge of their own futures. So far, the project has recruited and trained 41 'Mothers in Schools' who will act as female role models and provide support to young girls. They will also work to encourage parents to send (and keep sending) their daughters to school, and follow up with dropouts. In Ethiopia’s unpredictable rainy season, the project has also distributed umbrellas so the Mothers can comfortably visit families at home, and face one less barrier to following up on girls who are missing school.
Girl leaders: When girls are inspired, real change is possible. The project has also recruited 50 amazing girl leaders, who are ready and waiting to lead 'Gender Clubs', to champion gender equality and work to make girls' voices heard. The most powerful change is often created through youth-run campaign models, by young people who can not only who can not only create and implement relevant programmes, but influence their peers.
Building classrooms and latrines: Our projects go where we are most needed. In Gambella, 4 schools have been selected where extra classrooms and latrines will be built, and supply and construction contractors have been engaged. In addition, research is underway to determine the best way to ensure that girls have the menstrual supplies they need to feel secure and empowered at school.
Quality teacher training: the project has also started work with school staff on Codes of Conduct and School Improvement Plans. We know that by harnessing the power of entire communities, real change is sustainable. Alongside this, new teaching and learning materials are being bought for schools, and a pilot programme has been launched to help children catch up on basic numeracy, local language and English skills.
Bringing communities together: Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that children - wherever they are born - have the fundamental Right to Play. With this in mind, the project has decided on an approach to host events for children like sports and theatre, including using the events to mark the Day of the African Child on June 16th, World Refugee Day on June 20th, and the 16 Days of Activism in November.