Jessica Crawford of Self-Help International chronicles how a shift in policy created a more inclusive environment for girls in Ghana. Self-Help International is a peer-selected participant in the GlobalGiving Girl Fund.
Three years ago, Self-Help International realized we were missing a critical opportunity to work alongside our partner communities to break the cycle of poverty in Ghana. Working with women leaders in these communities and micro-credit programs, we developed the Teen Girls Club, a space for girls to support each other, receive tutoring, and hold relevant discussions. Additionally, our staff went through training to ensure the leaders of our pilot programs could provide appropriate support and developed a model of implementation centered around the club motto: Girls Stand for Education, Empowerment, and Fairness.
From the onset, incorporating the community voices of women was paramount. The coordinators come together quarterly to reflect on programming and work through dilemmas. Staff also hear from each community to help direct the programming or address specific issues. Through these ongoing conversations, we have tailored the tutoring program to address needs not met in the classroom. For example, school class sizes are large and teachers cannot provide one-on-one support. In our after-school groups, there is more time for individual instruction which has shown great results. In one community, just one year after the inception of the Teen Girls Club, the number of girls attending senior high school jumped from 3 to 12. One mother shared how she didn’t think her daughter would attend senior high because of the struggles young girls face in pursuing education. However, when she checked the test results she was elated to see that her daughter passed the qualifying exams and received a scholarship.
In addition to academics, we are committed to building girls’ confidence, educating them on their changing bodies, advocating for autonomy, and helping to empower them in their choices. We achieve these goals by offering opportunities for public speaking, skills development, and hygiene education. “I know very well that the Teen Girls Club is making a great impact in the lives of the girls. It is building their confidence levels. They are able to speak freely with themselves and with others in the community,” shared Victoria, the Teen Girls Club Manager.
The parent coordinators and SHI staff were encouraged by the Teen Girls Club success. Mothers from neighboring communities sought out the community coordinators, hoping to bring this program to their communities. However, before we were prepared to expand the program in partnership with the GlobalGiving Girl Fund, we wanted to be sure we had evaluated the model. Through reflection, we realized that we needed to make changes in our club membership policy.
The Teen Girls Club membership policy was originally developed to ensure commitment. In order to participate, girls had to a have a consistent record of attendance at school. However, once we listened, we heard from girls that the policy wasn’t truly reflective of members’ commitment. Some girls who were in school were only attending group on sports or activity days; meanwhile, other girls who were not enrolled in school were advocating for their eligibility to enroll and participate in the group on a regular basis. Victoria took a step back to evaluate if the policy aligned with the group goals—to break the poverty cycle. She had seen so many examples of girls who were not able to attend school. How do we support girls whose circumstances are creating barriers for their education in continuing to ensure a life of possibility for themselves and their future families? Of course, listening to the Teen Girls Club participants themselves provided the answer.
Farida and Elizabeth* are two girls who demonstrated a commitment to participating in the Teen Girls Club but also had barriers preventing them from receiving a formal education. Farida had experienced pregnancy and left school to care for her child. Elizabeth had a learning disability and could not communicate clearly and was unable to participate in regular classes.
There are many barriers for young women in rural Ghana’s education, but Elizabeth and Farida are two examples of young girls demanding a future filled with opportunity. While formal education was not a possibility for either of them during that time, they knew they wanted to keep learning, keep growing, and they found a space to pursue that in the Teen Girls Club. Our policy needed to be able to accommodate these demonstrated barriers.
Elizabeth, Farida, and other girls facing similar challenges taught us that while our Teen Girls Club programming can work in tandem with the public education system, it can also meet young girls where they stand. We have seen that girls not attending school but are consistently participating in the reading and tutoring groups are able to stay up to speed with their peers at a comparable level in school. We have the ability to be flexible in our approach and support the whole girl in her journey.
Following the lead of Elizabeth, Farida, and other determined young women in our pilot communities, we have shifted the eligibility policy of the Teen Girls Club. Moving forward eligibility will be defined by attendance at the group, not enrollment in school. Girls will be allowed three unexcused absences throughout the year and are able to work with their coordinators and SHI staff if longer or frequent absences are necessary. We have seen this policy create a more inclusive environment for all girls in our partner communities.
As we continue to expand the reach of the Teen Girls Club, we know there will be more learning experiences. As we evaluate the best way forward, we know that engaging in the cycle of actively listening and refining is the only way to find solutions and ensure that we are consistently providing the most appropriate and impactful programming alongside our partner communities.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
The most successful nonprofits Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. They listen to the people they intend to help. They act on what they hear, making feedback a part of every project. They learn from their actions, and they continually repeat the process—strengthening their impact with every cycle. Read more Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat. stories in the Learn Library.
Featured Photo: Stop 250 Teen Girls from Missing School in Ghana by Self-Help International