Feb 13, 2019

From Seeds, An Education Grows

Mary, a 15 year old girl in South Sudan
Mary, a 15 year old girl in South Sudan

Fifteen-year-old Mary took part in her very first school lesson last year.

Since its independence, South Sudan has suffered from civil war and famine, and a large proportion of children do not go to school in the country. Around 1.8 million school-aged children are currently not attending classes. Most of them are girls.

But things are slowly starting to change, and Mary’s newfound pursuit of an education serves as evidence.

“I live with my mother and father and have three brothers and four sisters,” she said. “Some are older, and some are younger. My cousin was killed in the fighting—he was just a boy—he was shot while trying to flee. I had a twin brother, but he died just after we were born.

“I started school when I was 14 years old. I didn’t go to school before that because there was fighting and it wasn’t possible. There was fighting all around—I remember it very well and it used to really worry me. I used to get scared that something would happen. I was young and I don’t like guns.”

Although soldiers confiscated many of Mary’s possessions, she made sure they didn’t take her school bag.

“When soldiers came to our house, they took some of our things,” she said. “I was given a school bag by Plan International and this was taken by the soldiers, but I chased after them and got it back. I told them it wasn’t their bag—it was mine—so they gave it back. This was last year.

“My mother didn’t go to school but I wanted to go to school because I think it’s important. My father was given seeds and tools by Plan International last year, when the drought was very bad. After this, I was able to start school.

“Life was very bad before my father started farming, we didn’t have much to eat. Before we got help, we were only eating things we could find in the forest. We sometimes didn’t eat and when we did, we only ate once a day. We were eating wild fruits and vegetables. Mango from the trees—things like this, tamarind and other fruits.”

The seeds provided by Plan made an enormous impact on Mary’s life, and on the life of her family.

“But now things are better, and we eat twice a day—morning and evening. In the morning we will eat porridge and in the evening porridge again. This is my favorite food and what we eat the most. I also like rice. Sometimes we eat meat, but we cannot afford it often. If we could I would eat it more. Since my father started farming, we have been able to eat every day. When we had no food, we felt hungry and grew thin.

“At school, my favorite subject is social studies because it is easy to understand. I find science difficult. I want to get married and become a doctor because I want to help people and cure their sickness.

“My biggest challenge is hunger. Before, when we couldn’t afford food, this was hard. I don’t worry about this happening again, if my father is working in the garden, then there is no worry. My biggest worry is being hungry.

“My family has more financial security now so there is no danger of me being married early. I want to finish school first before I get married. I would like my children to have a good life, and have a job.

“One of my friends is married. She is 17 years old and has never been to school. She has three children now. She should have gone to school. School is important because if you go to school you will be able to have a successful life.”

Plan is supporting families in South Sudan by distributing seeds and tools so households can grow their own crops and are able to generate an income, allowing them to send their children to school. Plan also works with communities in the Lakes region of South Sudan to improve nutrition, promote good hygiene, and distribute dignity kits to adolescent girls so they can manage their periods effectively.

Nov 19, 2018

Champions of Change in Vietnam

Participant and staff discussing the program.
Participant and staff discussing the program.

Supporting the Safer Cities program in Vietnam means challenging and changing social norms. Young boys and girls become engaged in conversations that alter the way they think about gender equality and become participants in the process. In separate clubs, boys and girls are given the space to discuss ideas and concepts around privilege, self-confidence and equality and find power in working collectively. They come to understand gender inequality in new ways and how it affects their lives and can recognize things about their city that makes them unsafe. With this understanding, they are able to visualize ways to improve their city and become part of the conversation.

Safety Walks

Once they developed a new vision of their city, girls’ clubs worked to evaluate the communities they were living in. Over the course of six months, 15 different safety walks were conducted in nine communes, or districts, of the city. These walks allowed participants to identify places or things that make them feel unsafe in their neighborhoods.

Parent Involvement

Parents can play an important role in the success and well-being of their children, but only if they are aware of the issues their children are facing.

Linh, 17, says she often felt scared or unsafe while traveling around Hanoi or going to school. But she says she never talked to her parents about it—and neither do most girls. Linh thought that if she told her parents about some of the things that worried her, they might forbid her to leave the house at all. But, she says after her experience with the Safer Cities project, her parents surprised her. They started to attend the awareness sessions offered at her school, and listened more to what she had to say. “They totally support my participation and want to understand more about the issues so they can help if I’m ever in need,” Linh said. “Instead of forbidding me to go out, they come with me!”

Teachers’ Support

Trainings were conducted with teachers to include them as leaders in the work done to change the conversation about gender equality and awareness. In reaction to the training, one teacher share that “this is the first time we have had training on this content and I must say that it is very helpful for teachers like us. Many things that we used to attribute to girls’ or boys’ characters turn out to be all gender stereotypes. We are very excited to integrate this knowledge in lessons with boys and girls, as well as communicate with parents to change them as well.”

Bus Driver Awareness

Bus Drivers have a unique perspective of social norms throughout the community. Buses are places that girls feel particularly unsafe, so training bus drivers to recognize when a girl may be in harm is an important step to shift social dynamics.

“In doing my job before I attended the training, I witnessed cases of sexual harassment on my bus, but I didn’t realize what it was,” ticket collector Nguyen said. Nguyen now has the skills to resolve conflicts like that and prevent other incidents in the future. “After attending the course, I paid more attention to girls when they take the bus, so I can help them if they need it,” Nguyen said. “If I recognize a potential perpetrator, I arrange a safe seat for girls or women when they get on, or ask another passenger to stand between them, and I kept an eye on them.”

Results

To date, the project has reached thousands living in Vietnam. 1,502 teachers have been trained, 13 community-managed safe spaces have been established, 90 men have been trained on gender equality to become leaders in their community, 90 females led 14 interface meetings with government officers, and 1,350 transit staff were trained and committed to protect girls and women on buses.

Bus drivers are important participants.
Bus drivers are important participants.
Girls' Clubs give girls a safe space.
Girls' Clubs give girls a safe space.
Aug 21, 2018

Taking Action Against Trafficking in Nepal

This is 18-year-old Praja. She lives with her parents in a small village in southeastern Nepal, near the border with India. Like many girls in the area, Praja attended school for only a few years. She left after third grade.

A few months ago, a man came to her village and offered to walk with Praja into town. He was charming and bragged about traveling and working in the big cities of Mumbai and Katmandu. She was flattered, and they walked together several times. He even took her shopping for clothes. Once he had gained her trust, he asked if Praja would like to go to the city on his motorcycle. She readily agreed.

Her parents had no idea this was happening.

The man, who was 36 years old, tried to take Praja over the border into India. Fortunately, they were stopped by monitors at one of Plan International’s border check-point booths. They knew right away that this was a bad situation. They also knew that if Praja crossed the border, she would be lost forever in the world of child trafficking.

Plan’s staff were able to reunite Praja with her family. The man who tried to abduct her was handed over to the local police.

Now, Praja is safe at home with her parents. She is receiving counseling through Plan to help her cope with the trauma she has suffered. And, instead of spending her days roaming the streets, she has enrolled in a sewing course through Plan's Action Against Child Trafficking Program (AACT), which is funded by donors in the U.S.

An estimated 11,000 girls like Praja are trafficked every year from Nepal to India and other countries. Three districts that lie close to the border of India—Banke, Sunsari, and Rautahat—are especially vulnerable.

The AACT project targets high-risk, heavy-transit areas in the border region between Nepal and India. With donor support, Plan has implemented border monitoring projects and educated families and community members about the risks and realities of trafficking.

 
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