Sep 5, 2017

Egypt's promising youth advocate, Al Shaimaa

Al Shaimaa, Egypt's promising youth advocate
Al Shaimaa, Egypt's promising youth advocate

Al Shaimaa, 21, from Egypt is a young woman eager to make an impact. She's currently studying veterinary medicine at university and is a member of Plan International’s Global Youth Advisory Panel (GYAP).

Leading her community

"Joining Plan International has helped me change the way I think about different issues. Before I used to be okay with female genital mutilation (FGM) because I was so unfamiliar with it. I used to think it was a norm in our culture and that there was nothing wrong with it," she shares.

"Now I understand exactly what FGM is and the risks & challenges it poses for girls. I am very opposed to it and I am speaking out against it in my community."

Al Shaimaa is also a passionate advocate against early marriage, "I think it is important to rally members of our communities to inform people. We need to start acting for ourselves instead of waiting - we need to be faster."

Egypt's promising advocate has been part of Plan International's projects since she was 10, and later joined their National Youth Advisory Panel. She's participated in activities, including launching an awareness campaign to help clean the streets of her neighbourhood, and has engaged in meetings on topics like social media and conflict resolution.

One of her fondest and most constructive experiences was attending a woman's rights conference in Zimbabwe. "It was very interesting and eye-opening because we share a lot in common with other African countries," she reflects.

In March 2017 she was also part of the annual GYAP meeting in El Salvador.

Plan International's influence

Al Shaimaa credits Plan International and Because I am a Girl for changing both her life and that of her family.

"It's really helped change my personality to become a stronger person. I used to be shy, but after joining all the activities I became more sociable. It also helped me organize my time better and learn to do more productive things."

"Thinking of my family, I think it gave me more of a voice," she says confidently. "For example, when I was travelling for my first conference with Plan International, my uncles were reluctant to let me go because I was a young girl. However, after speaking and convincing them, they let me go."

Exciting road ahead

Because of her passionate work in her own community, Al Shaimaa has started to receive invitations from parties to join them as an advocate in their local councils.

Al Shaimaa has big dreams and plans for her future, "I want to finish university and begin working in my field."

"I also want to continue taking courses and study abroad to develop my skills and knowledge. I want to integrate the Global Youth Advisory Panel with Egyptian youth, and create a common strategy to help youth develop globally," she shares.

"I want to make a global impact."

Jun 12, 2017

New School Brings Brighter Future in Nepal

School girls studying in Nepal
School girls studying in Nepal

Ten families in Nepal donated their land to construct a safe school after the local school was destroyed by a devastating earthquake two years ago. 

Plan International will build a three-building classroom, science lab, library, and playground with disability-friendly facilities. The school will host more than 400 students. 

Juna and Gifa, two of the women who donated their land for construction, said they gave up the land so their children could have a brighter future and contribute to the development of society. Both women are illiterate and did not get an opportunity to go to school.

There is a risk that their children would study elsewhere if their school was not in good condition, the women said. They indicated that they would lose income by giving up their land, but they cannot compare an income to an education.

Before the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015, the previous location of the school was unsafe – prone to high winds and dry landslides, built with only local construction materials. After the earthquake, Plan International built temporary learning classrooms. Skilled masons, trained by Plan International, have also supported the construction of the school.

After two years of studying in a temporary classroom, Manju and her cousin Lila are two of the students who will soon be starting school in a new, safe, earthquake-resistant school. “If we do not go to school, we will end up just like our parents, who can hardly write their names,” said 14-year-old Manju. “We would spend our lives working on the farm, doing traditional agricultural work. After studying, I will work hard to stop the bad culture in our society. I want to help others, it’s not just about us – it is about helping the community.”

Fifteen-year-old Lila is equally committed to getting an education to make a better life for herself and her family. “If we were not in school, we would likely be married off. By staying in school, we will not get married, we will stand on our own two feet and not have to rely on others.” 

“In the old school, if there was an earthquake, we would not have safe, open spaces for us to go to,” said Manju. “Now with the new school, it will be much bigger, so if the shaking starts, we can all come together in a safe space.”

“Previously, we did not have a playground, or a library,” said Lila. “Our new school will have these. Our old temporary school was not disability-friendly as the ground was unstable, but the new school will support these children. For example, children who are not able to see well will be able to sit at the front of the classroom.” 

Lila wants to become an engineer and is positive the new school, which will be constructed with the support of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and open in May of 2017, will help her achieve her goal. 

“In our community, most men go abroad, and after the earthquake there was a large demand for engineers,” she said. “Many came from outside our village, but they did not behave well, and caused some issues. I am a female, but so what? I may be limited physically, but if my mind is sharp, then I can become an engineer.”

Mar 14, 2017

Building Safer Cities for Girls in Cairo


Amina, a 16-year-old girl from Egypt is learning through her Girls Club that she has a voice – and her voice matters.

”When I first came to the clubs, I thought there would be no change in Khairallah but I found that many things were changing,” said 16-year-old Amina. “Now, I know the difference between sex and gender. I also learned how to express my opinion and I have rights that I need to gain. I couldn’t imagine that I would be one of the girls that would speak to the government officials and have a role to change anything, even if it is small.”

Amina is participating in Plan International’s Safer Cities for Girls project, which aims to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities with and for adolescent girls. The project provides the opportunity for girls and boys aged 13 to 18 to join girls’ clubs based in the communities. At the clubs, girls learn about their rights, practice various activities, and participate in community outreach. The project helps to empower girls, allowing them to express their need to feel safe and discuss the barriers and difficulties they face in their daily lives. 

“I learned to respect other people’s opinions,” said 14-year-old Mona. “Before joining the program, I used to be stubborn and listen to no other opinion except mine. Now, I understand that everyone has his or her own opinion and that we should respect that and listen to them.” 

As of now, the project has reached approximately 650 girls and 100 boys. Plan builds girls’ capacities to become active in protecting themselves. The project also creates safe spaces for girls to meet, discuss issues of common interest, and carry out initiatives to increase their participation. At the same time, Plan works with government officials, parents, and the community at large to increase their awareness of girls’ rights to participation, protection, and safe mobility, among others, in addition to promoting an active role in enabling girls to enjoy their rights.

Through the program’s activities, girls are allowed to express their needs and discuss them with government officials. This happens through face-to-face meetings with local and national authorities and has helped increase awareness of girls’ concerns and rights among duty bearers. Many of the youth have learned through the Champions of Change curriculum, which builds the capacity of youth as peer educators by developing a real understanding of the impact of their cultural, social and religious contexts.

Young men get involved with girls' and women's projects in their communities so that they can help to reduce gender-based violence, become caring fathers and connect with other young men to promote gender equality in their families, schools and communities.

At the local authorities’ level, officials have asked girls involved in the project to help in detailing the issues they face and to present them to the protection committee. From there, stakeholders can take further decisions and network to take further action on those issues. 

“It is our responsibility as government officials to support the girls,” said Mr. Shereif, Manager of the Adult Learning Department, Maser El Adima District.

“I was afraid in the beginning to speak in front of any official but my friends made me unafraid to speak out,” said Amal, a 14-year old girl.

Ahlam, another girl in the program, added, “I now realized that my problem will be solved when addressing the responsible government official.” 

Because girls in communities like Ezbet Khairallah are not privileged enough to enjoy playing, Plan also introduced the Sports for Development approach into the program. Activities started with sports days, then soccer trainings for girls and boys. The soccer trainings included reflection times to discuss different issues such as identity, stereotypes, competitions and collaboration, and dominant masculinity vs. gender equality. The five-day trainings ended with a co-ed training for boys and girls playing together as one team. 

The attitudes of both girls and boys towards one another have changed significantly. Previously, many girls were afraid to interact with boys, but now they play together as one team. On the other hand, boys thought that it was strange for girls to play soccer, but when they played together they started to understand that it is the rights of girls to enjoy playing as they do. Many of them said that they would like to have their sisters join the project activities and learn to play soccer.

“Before joining the soccer training, I could not understand why boys liked to play soccer, but now that I have experienced playing soccer, learning the rules and playing in teams, I enjoyed it very much,” said 13-year-old May. “I hope that one day we can have soccer clubs for girls as well so we can play it and attend regular trainings.” 

“After attending the soccer trainings through Safer Cities project, my friend and I formed two teams at school. Each of us led a team of six girls; we taught them the rules of the game and we all played together,” said 14-year-old Shahenda.

The girls also had self-defense trainings, which resulted in much excitement. One of the girls was very happy when telling other girls how she used the techniques they learned in defending herself, when an older boy grabbed her from the back.

She was smiling when she told the group how he ran away after she reacted.

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