Because I am a Girl - Plan International USA

 
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Girls in Ethiopia open their Be Girl products
Girls in Ethiopia open their Be Girl products

Don't forget to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th!

“Many girls come from rural areas, and they’ve never heard of menstruation before. They are very scared, and they think it is something bad happening. Sometimes they are too ashamed to tell their parents or anyone.” Sixteen-year-old Edagegn from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, explains the heartbreaking situation that many girls at her school face, simply because no one talks about menstruation. 

But let's get real. Menstruation might be an awkward topic, but it is keeping girls out of school. And that means we need to give it some serious thought.

When Plan launched a program two years ago to improve primary education for girls in Addis Ababa, it was clear that menstrual hygiene management would need to be a critical part. There were no safe toilets or water facilities at the schools, and many girls were using old rags or dirty cloths to manage their periods. It was no surprise that girls were often forced to stay home from school for a week every month. So we made sure that menstrual hygiene management training for girls and for teachers was an integral part of the program, along with a free sanitary pad service. 

But there was one problem: The only decent sanitary products available were disposable… and wouldn’t last after the project ended. The few reusable products that were available were prone to leak during use and even to mildew after washing.

It seemed too good to be true when we met Diana Sierra, CEO of the company Be Girl, which creates quality, reusable sanitary products for girls. Diana uses innovative design and high-performance material to develop a product that any girl would be proud to own. Together, Be Girl and Because I am a Girl are getting the highest quality materials into the hands of the hardest-to-reach girls. 

About the Because I am a Girl Program in Ethiopia

In October 2012, with the incredible support of our donors, Plan launched a program in 8 schools in the slums of Addis Ababa to help them become friendlier places for girls to learn.  Five water tanks and two sets of safe toilets were installed, over 1,000 uniforms and school materials were distributed, and extracurricular programs were created to give girls the support they needed to thrive at school.

Girls in these schools also learned how to safely manage menstruation, and free sanitary pads were available to girls when they needed them.  A school administrator noted, “Girls used to stay home during menstruation, but now they don’t miss even a second of school.  I keep the sanitary pads in my jacket pocket all the time in case the girls need them. We also used to have a shortage of water, and the children would bring water in plastic bags to school if they could afford it. But with the new water tank, there is always a supply of water for drinking and washing.”

About Be Girl 

Diana Sierra, the CEO of Be Girl, didn’t always work in social enterprise. Her background includes consulting in industrial design for companies as diverse as Panasonic and Nike. But when she realized the struggles that girls faced in developing countries every month trying to manage menstruation, she decided to use her skills for another purpose—“empowering women through design.” And thus, Be Girl was born. 

The first Be Girl product was a leak-proof sanitary pad that could be easily washed and reused. The girls in Uganda who tried to first prototype loved everything about it… except for the black color. They said it was boring! So Diana responded with pads in blue, purple and green, giving girls a product that wasn’t just functional but fun.

But there was another problem. Girls from very poor families sometimes didn’t own underwear and couldn’t use the sanitary pad. So Diana took her design process a step further and created a pair of leak-proof underwear with a mesh pocket, where girls could insert toilet tissue or clean cloths as needed. The final product met the specific needs of the girls and gave them a sense of pride in ownership. 

About the Partnership

In April, Diana traveled to Ethiopia to personally donate 500 reusable pads and 120 pairs of her innovative underwear to the girls in the Because I am a Girl project.  They loved the products - it meets their needs and, what's more, it was designed with love especially for them. Diana says, "I believe that every person has the right to feel ownership of products that fill him or her with pride and a sense of dignity." Diana's products are more than just basic needs; they are vehicles to dignity. And this is at the core of Plan's partnership with Be Girl - a belief that all girls deserve to live with a sense of pride and self-respect.  

Links:

Girls in action at the Because I am a Girl Cup
Girls in action at the Because I am a Girl Cup

     Sports brings people together more than perhaps anything other event.  Case in point:  Super Bowl 2014 was the most-watched television event in history, with the World Cup final not far behind.  So it was not surprising that hundreds of people gathered to watch the Because I am a Girl Cup in Nepal, a soccer tournament that brought together girls from 12 districts all over the country in a public event to compete for the tournament cup, as well as to raise awareness about the rights of girls across the nation.  Local newspapers picked up the story, and mainstream and social media around the event reached about 10 million people.   

     Early marriage and school dropout are major issues for girls in Nepal, and they are often expected to stay at home and perform household work.  The line between what girls can do and what boys can do seems impenetrable.  But there is no limit to what determined girls can accomplish.  So in the fall of 2014, 190 girls from 12 districts in Nepal walked confidently out of their houses, laced up their shoes, and showed the country that girls can do anything that boys can do.

     Fighting discrimination is complex work.  Conversations about girls’ rights can stir up deep emotions and often trigger defensive responses.  But a sports game is transcendent.  It changes people’s perceptions of who girls are and what girls can do without them ever realizing it is happening.  Suddenly, girls go from silent housekeepers to soccer stars, running and kicking and yelling across a field that was once thought to be “boys-only territory.” 

 

What did girls say about the Because I am a Girl Cup?  

“The Because I am a Girl Cup proved that women are as strong as men physically as well as mentally.”   

- Rekha, captain of the Kanchanpur team

“This is different from other tournaments - this is to stop discrimination and abuse against girls, to raise awareness among people about the importance of education for girls. ”   

- Sushmita, a player on the Kathmandu team

 

What else have you made possible for girls in Nepal?

376 centers for non-formal education have served 9,383 children (93% girls).

300 children and 300 parents were educated on preventing trafficking.

149 vulnerable children (Muslim children and children from low castes) who had dropped out of school are attending non-formal education programs to rejoin formal schools. 

The Info Booth at the Indian border cross-checked 192 children and rescued 46 children who were being trafficked into India as child laborers.   

 

 

 

 

 

Team Rautahat - Cup Champions!
Team Rautahat - Cup Champions!

Links:

Giao, from Vietnam, is dreaming big this year.
Giao, from Vietnam, is dreaming big this year.

See what five special girls around the world are wishing for this holiday season…

“All I want is an education to know how to read, to give back to my community and to be something more.”  Nourhan is a 15-year-old girl from Egypt, and she has never been to school.  She goes to work to earn money to pay for her dowry.  But the Because I am a Girl program in Egypt is launching this year in Nourhan’s hometown, providing the opportunity for girls who have never been to school to receive alternative education. 

“I want to become a French teacher so that I can make money to buy clothes and food for my family and for old people in the village.”  Florence, from Burkina Faso, is 15 years old, and almost didn’t go to school.  She was often sick as a child, and her parents were forced to choose between healthcare and an education for her.  But thanks to your support of the Because I am a Girl program, Florence received a scholarship and is now excelling in secondary school. 

“I wish I could tell girls everywhere, ‘We’re not less!  Sometimes men look down on women, but we have to stand up and be confident.  We’re worth it!’”  Johana is a teenager in El Salvador, one of the most dangerous countries in the world.  Girls and women are often casualties of the gang violence that rages across the country, and they face harassment and the threat of sexual abuse every day.  The Because I am a Girl program in Johana’s community created safe spaces for girls to gather and support one another, and to learn about preventing and reporting violence.  Johana has taken on a leadership role, and often counsels younger girls at her home who are facing difficult situations. 

“I’ve seen a lot of violence against girls, but I realized the school was trying to change that.  I want to be a part of that change.”  At age 14, Mestawet is just finishing primary school in Ethiopia.  In her hometown on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, schools do exist, but they are not friendly places for girls.  The Because I am a Girl program is working in her school and 7 others to ensure that they have clean water, safe toilets, school materials, and teachers who are trained in nonviolent classroom management.  Mestawet is a Girl Ambassador at her school, and she helps the project staff give extra support to girls who are very vulnerable.     

“I’m dreaming of a better life for my son Tuan.  I borrowed $25 to buy a piglet, and soon I will sell it for twice as much as I paid.  I’ve never in my life had that much money!”  19-year-old Giao is a member of the Because I am a Girl Village Savings and Loan program in Vietnam.  The Savings Groups give young women the chance to save and borrow money, to manage their finances, and to invest in their own businesses to plan for the future. 

 

THANK YOU for making a difference in the lives of girls around the world and giving them something to hope for this holiday season.  Happy Holidays from Plan International USA!

Links:

Mariama, age 15, Sierra Leone
Mariama, age 15, Sierra Leone

“I want to BE BOLD and speak out without shame.  Then I can help and teach others.”  Mariama, a 15-year-old girl from Sierra Leone says confidently.  In her hometown of Songo, Mariama takes a proud stand for the rights of girls with disabilities, so they will be protect from abuse and included with all children in school and the community. 

Join Mariama and millions of people around the world on October 11th, the 3rd International Day of the Girl, as we celebrate the bold actions of girls, women, boys, and men who stand up for girls’ rights every day.  The theme of this year’s celebration is “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.”

Because of your generous support of the Because I am a Girl program, over 30,000 girls in 8 countries have what they need to thrive: schools, water, scholarships, healthcare, financial knowledge, practical skills, and the support of hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, brothers, and community members. 

Here’s snapshot of what you’ve accomplished for girls around the world:

  • Burkina Faso: One new school complex and 8 new supplementary classrooms were constructed, and scholarships for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year were awarded to 300 girls;
  • El Salvador: 1,396 girls and 139 boys were educated on violence prevention;
  • Ethiopia: 5 schools were equipped with water tanks and pipes, science equipment and library books; 400 girls received school uniforms; and 240 parents are saving money in Savings Groups;
  • India: 2,000 girls at risk of child labor were enrolled in school, and 2,000 parents of at-risk girls were connected with employment programs to support their families;
  • Indonesia: 150 adolescent girls learned to facilitate peer trainings on life skills and health;
  • Nepal: 139 alternative education centers are teaching 3,479 girls and boys to prevent trafficking;
  • Sierra Leone: 240 savings groups are teaching 3,114 girls how to save and manage money, in addition to confidence and life skills;
  • Vietnam: 566 Savings Groups are serving 9,326 members (90% women and girls).

But the change is even bigger than these numbers:  A local Plan staff member who works on the Because I am a Girl project in Sierra Leone says, “There is a change now in the way that girls are seen.  There was a time in these communities when they could treat girls badly, but now it’s different.  Girls eat with parents out of the same bowl.” 

Links:

Isha, pictured on left with her friend
Isha, pictured on left with her friend

Village Savings and Loan Groups have been used in a number of countries throughout the world, including Sierra Leone, to introduce low-income communities to the basics of saving money and planning for future expenses, particularly when banks are not easily accessible.  These skills are especially valuable for young women in Sierra Leone, as more than 70% will be single mothers at some point in their lives.    

Plan’s Because I am a Girl Program in Sierra Leone teaches these skills to girls as young as 7 years old, in Girls’ Savings and Loan Groups, in order to prepare them to manage money before they even get their first job.  As with adults, these Savings Groups build confidence and provide a platform to teach other skills, such as public speaking, violence prevention, and business skills.  

15-year-old Isha joined the Savings Group in her community of Songo, and was selected as a Girl Ambassador to teach her peers what she learned.  “The most important thing I learned was how to talk in public,” she says.  “I used to be quiet and not speak out, but now I am bold and confident.”     

After a year of saving money, Isha gave the money that she’d saved to her mother, Tokumbo, who used it to pay for her school fees and invest in the family business.  Tokoumbo, was impressed by what she saw. 

“What was interesting to me was that the children really prepared for the Savings Group meetings — they washed up and put on their best clothes to go meet with each other,” says Tokumbo.  “I admire my girl when she is bold now to stand up for her rights. 

“And all of us parents were impressed by the money that the children could save.  We decided that we wanted to do this Savings Group as adults.  Now every Wednesday on market day, 10 of us meet together, and we each give 10,000 leons (about $2) to one person in our group.  We’ve been doing this now for 15 weeks.  Every week we give to a different person.  This is all because of the girls who first started doing this.” 

Girls’ Savings Groups in Sierra Leone build confidence and lay a practical foundation to help a girl thrive in the future.  Moreover, these girls share their knowledge and skills with their families — revealing that if you educate a girl, you can change the world. 

Isha
Isha's mother Tokumbo at the marketplace

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Organization

Project Leader

Audrey Anderson

Warwick, RI United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Because I am a Girl - Plan International USA