Girls' Fund - Plan International USA

by Plan International USA
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Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Girls' Fund - Plan International USA
Aisha
Aisha

Please note that this story mentions sexual violence and suicide.

More than 820 million people around the world will go to bed hungry tonight. It’s estimated that 70% of that group are girls and women. And when you’re a girl, the situation goes beyond food. Because as hunger escalates, so does gender-based violence. Girls are the last to be fed, and the first to become vulnerable.

Here, four girls and women share how the global hunger crisis is putting their safety at risk. These stories can be difficult to read, but communities are calling out for help, and it’s up to us to listen and respond.

 

Aisha, a 55-year-old community worker in Somaliland, Somalia

“As a result of the drought, people are less financially secure,” Aisha says. “Gender-based violence has risen dramatically. Before the drought, most men were busy with their work, but now many have lost their jobs. Men are harassing young women on the street, and some will commit rape if they get the chance.

“Families are facing greater hardships because of the drought and its effects on the economy. This means gender-based violence within families is becoming more common. These abuses happen between married couples when food is more expensive and there’s less work available. It leads to conflict, and women are beaten and hurt.

“Because of the drought, displaced people from the countryside are moving in search of water. Displaced people are coming to live with relatives in the city. There may be older men who’ll commit abuse, either physically or mentally. It may come from the landlords, or from within the family. Girls may be abused in the home, or domestic workers may be subjected to abuse in their workplace.

“In rural areas, girls who walk long distances to fetch water are at greater risk of being harassed or abducted. There is a lot of abuse.

“Girls who go to college at night also suffer. For example, a lot of abuse happens in tuk-tuks. If a girl uses a tuk-tuk at night, it may not stop where she wants. Instead, she is taken to a place where she is abused.”

“Some victims come and ask for help in dealing with the trauma,” Aisha says. “They find people who are there to help, they return to their communities, adapt and have hope. Others don’t seek help. They may hurt themselves. Some may even attempt suicide. Others leave their families and communities.”

 

Hawi, a 13-year-old girl in Ethiopia

“My future has become dark due to the severe drought we have been facing this year … Many girls have migrated to urban areas to look for work,” Hawi says. “I heard that many of my friends are now working in hotels. Many children are now working. This is all the result of the drought.

“I have never experienced a drought or thought it could be like this. I now understand that the biggest enemy for girls is drought.  Drought makes girls homeless and forces them towards violence and abuse.

“I have great love and respect for nature and uniquely for cattle. I named my cow ‘Harme,’ which means mom. And I loved her equal to my real mom. But she passed away during the drought along with many other cows and calves. I cried … but no one comforted my grieving, because everyone has been crying.

“My brother is thinking of migrating. I advised him to not do so, but if the situation continues like this, he will leave the area and become one of the vulnerable migrated children. My little sisters are also becoming weak and hopeless. Not only my beloved cows and calves — I am also going to miss my brothers and sisters,” Hawi concludes, as though their future is already determined.

 

Halima, Hawi’s mother in Ethiopia

Halima, a 30-year-old mother in Ethiopia, says her daughter Hawi and her other children are often sick from hunger.

Halima, a 30-year-old mother in Ethiopia, says her daughter Hawi and her other children are often sick from hunger.

“Learning from my daughter’s active engagement in girls’ rights [with Plan], I was encouraged to bring together women in my village,” Halima says. “I started a small women’s group to challenge gender-based violence. But now, many of the women have become even more vulnerable as their husbands have abandoned the village, leaving them responsible for everything.

“They cannot feed their children because there is no food, no husbands even to support them. They have become hopeless and most of them have lost their minds — they don’t know what they are saying, but are always crying.

“Women and girls go to very far places searching for water. We have to walk 10 kilometers [more than 6 miles] on average to collect water. Very few ponds have any water left.

“We take turns to go, often taking three or four hours. Many women go during the night thinking that less people will be at the ponds. They are abused by men and some arrogant people at night.

“I cannot express the challenges we mothers are facing in this community due to this drought. Our children are always sick since the water is not clean. We don’t have water to wash our bodies. My daughters can’t wash their bodies regularly as before. Girls’ health and hygiene are being seriously affected by the absence of water. No food, no water, no way to keep my body healthy – it’s a really dark life.”

 

Marie*, a 16-year-old girl from Haiti

“We rely on selling charcoal, which is the only income we have as a family,” Marie says. “As a result of our situation, my child is not well fed.

“A man who lived in my neighborhood called me to his house. When I arrived, he put his hands on me and raped me.”

“My family’s economic situation does not allow me to go back to school,” Marie says.  “We have no home — and when it rains, we can only wait for it to stop.”

*Marie’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Hawi
Hawi
Halima
Halima
Halima and her calf
Halima and her calf
Marie
Marie
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Girls stand along the foundation of the dormitory
Girls stand along the foundation of the dormitory

When we ask the girls we work with about the problems they face in their daily lives, they sometimes bring up issues we don’t expect. They also have ideas about how to solve those issues. This is the heart of our GirlEngage approach at Plan International USA. When girls can truly direct their own lives, meaningful change becomes reality.

In Zimbabwe, many rural homes don’t have access to running water. It’s not uncommon for girls to walk several miles each day to collect water from rivers and streams for their families to use for cooking, cleaning and washing. This not only means girls have less time to go to school, if they’re even able to attend in the first place, but it also puts their safety at risk to travel so far from home on their own. With the climate continuing to warm, the availability of water decreases with every passing season — and the distance girls must walk to find it only increases.

Through The Graduation Project, which is building dormitories for girls at two schools in the country, Plan consulted participants about additional features they felt were necessary to support their education. One of those features was direct access to clean water.

“Now I appreciate the GirlEngage approach. It’s unleashing the potential that was hidden within me. I never thought I would confidently speak before an audience, but now I do it with much ease.” — participant in Zimbabwe

So, in partnership with Purdue University, the project is also conducting an engineering training course for girls to design, plan and implement a water recycling system together. So far, the girls have learned about the basics of water recycling, including how to treat and reuse water for things like agriculture and drinking. Not only do the girls have the opportunity to create more sustainable access to water in their community, but they’re also inspired to pursue science and engineering in the future.

“We used to think engineering is for men and boys only, but now we have the understanding that engineering is for anyone ¾ including women and girls. We are so grateful because, through this project, we are now connected on Wi-Fi. We now have tablets where we have full access to our online engineering lessons.” — 14-year-old participant in Zimbabwe

Girls in Senegal are also taking on climate change initiatives through Girls Learn & Thrive, Plan’s project to prevent child marriage and keep girls in school. In this community, the pandemic surfaced many problems girls face, one of them being access to electricity. When schools closed and turned to remote learning, many girls couldn’t keep up. Even if some students were lucky enough to have access to the necessary technology, unreliable electricity made regular studying impossible.

Purdue University is also partnering with Plan and the local technical high school to implement an engineering program in Senegal, this time focused on solar energy. The girls identified problem areas where consistent lighting was necessary to keep them safe and shared with Plan what they currently know about engineering so courses could be designed with them in mind.

As the project continues, the girls will learn to co-design, test and implement the renewable solar systems in their community. And, once their new systems are in place, they’ll be able to study in the evening even after the sun goes down, and public spaces won’t feel so unsafe.

Best of all, the girls in Zimbabwe and Senegal are just beginning their journey in an industry that benefits the planet while opening new doors for their futures. With more girls engaged in climate solutions that solve local problems, we can strive for a greener, more sustainable world for everyone.

Well installed at the girls' school community
Well installed at the girls' school community
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This is Zalissa

Growing up in Burkina Faso often means knowing about violence and terrorism from a young age. When attacks started happening in Zalissa’s community, life changed for girls like her. And one day, without knowing it, she left her classroom for the last time. Going to school simply wasn’t safe anymore, and just like that, the 13-year-old was no longer a student.

Then in 2020, things got worse. Zalissa and her family were forced to flee their home and start over in an unfamiliar place. She became an internally displaced person — a label given to over one million people (and 600,000 children) in Burkina Faso.

Daporé: a teacher with a vision

The school in Zalissa’s new community welcomed displaced students like her. But it was challenging. The school was already in disrepair, and the classrooms weren’t big enough to fit nearly 130 new students. Classes became overcrowded, with students having to share seats. Books and school supplies ran out.

Teaching in classrooms like this isn’t easy, but dedicated teachers like Daporé are showing up every day, doing their best. He knows how important girls’ education is, and how issues like displacement, child marriage and early pregnancy can keep them out of school.

“When girls are in school it has a positive effect on their families and society,” he says. “We need to ensure girls have access to support and scholarships so they can stay in school.”

Cécile is bringing change

Cécile manages Plan International’s education and protection projects in Burkina Faso. One thing she’s working on this year: revamping 16 schools across the Centre-Nord region (including Zalissa’s). That means building new classrooms and learning spaces to reduce class size, providing school supplies and focusing on how to best reintegrate displaced students.

She’s passionate about making sure girls are in school. But she knows what they’re up against.

“Girls’ education is often sacrificed when families are in difficulty,” explains Cécile. “Many girls end up in situations of child labor or marriage. It can be hard to find the motivation and courage to return to school.”

A new chapter for Zalissa and her classmates

The new classrooms at Zalissa’s school made all the difference. The teachers like Daporé can accommodate more students and provide better quality education.

That means a lot to displaced students and girls like Zalissa. They’ve been through enough hardship, and deserve a safe and inclusive place to learn.

Zalissa’s favorite subject is history. She says she likes it because “it tells the story”.

She might not realize it, but Zalissa is making history as part of Burkina Faso’s story herself. Because every girl like Zalissa that stays in the classroom sends the same message: Girls deserve to determine their own futures.

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Karine had never given much thought to starting her own business. But once she joined a Plan International program in Brazil called Bridges to the Future, which helps young people learn about entrepreneurship, the wheels started turning.

After she joined the Plan program, she couldn’t help but notice that most of the terms used by entrepreneurs in Brazil were in English. She saw this as a barrier for people who only speak local languages. Then she started thinking about ways to connect with other young people who can’t access information about innovation or business. That’s when she worked out the concept for her business, Wakanda.

Wakanda is an entrepreneurial education company with training courses designed for a diverse range of audiences. Before receiving any investment, Wakanda had already developed its first product: a set of three 8-hour training courses to assist entrepreneurs in need. In total, 12 women completed the course, of which six are still part of the Wakanda community today.

Now, the company offers an even wider range of courses and has helped hundreds of young entrepreneurs over the years.

“We are a business with social impact, which has this social character of leaving a positive mark on society,” Karine says.

At the end of 2020, Wakanda took Karine all the way to Shark Tank Brazil — and she left with a new partner, Rio de Janeiro businesswoman Camila Farani. Farani also committed herself to investing in the best projects developed by entrepreneurs who use Wakanda.

Karine even went on to be named one of the most outstanding young entrepreneurs in Brazil by Forbes Magazine. And they put her on the cover.

For Karine, the most important part of this experience was showing Brazilians that there is another way to talk about business — using informal and accessible language.

“For me, that was great because some people in the entrepreneurship world were still very reluctant to understand this new way of talking about entrepreneurship,” she says. “To be on the cover of Forbes Magazine was to prove that this way is not only important, but necessary.”

For girls interested in following in her footsteps, Karine says that many women and girls are already entrepreneurs. They just don’t recognize themselves as such.

“Women, and especially Black women, have always been entrepreneurs out of necessity,” she says. “But the language of entrepreneurship drives people away and crystallizes [in] the figure of a white man in a suit and tie.”

When the world invests in girls, real changes happens. Thank you for helping a young entrepreneur like Karine follow her dreams.

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For many children around the world, war in their backyard is the norm.

Their lives are put on hold while their families try to simply survive. And during this time, girls can lose the chance to learn skills for their futures, as uncertain as they may be.

In Cameroon, Yeluma got to know this situation well. Her life was turned upside down after armed conflict between the southwest and northwest regions began in 2016. Without school, a place she loved dearly, her dream of becoming a doctor was crushed.

Pillaging in her village was common, but one day was especially devastating. As the community’s houses were looted and burned, Yeluma and her family fled into the surrounding bushes to hide, but instead got separated amid the chaos.

“The bushes became the safest place for me,” Yeluma says. “I stayed there for weeks. Sadly, I could not find any of my family members. That is my reality.”

But even in the bushes, Yeluma faced constant harassment from others. Without her family’s support, and conditions in the bushes worsening every day, she decided to escape to the city in northwest Cameroon.

When she arrived, Yeluma received counselling from social workers and joined a youth group at a child-friendly learning center, as part of Plan's emergency response work. She was able to take part in recreational activities and attend life skills sessions specifically designed for adolescents on topics including sexual and reproductive health.

Though the pain of losing her family lingered, Yeluma rediscovered her strength and eagerness to learn. She took up beadwork and learned how to make traditional African bracelets. While schools were still closed due to the ongoing conflict, Plan offered her the opportunity to enroll at a vocational training center to increase her knowledge and skills.

After graduating from the course, she was provided with the tools and materials she needed to start her own business, and she has since become an expert in her field. She makes beaded goods at her home and sells them throughout her community. She also exhibits her work at special sales events and even built up a regular client list.

Going forward, Yeluma hopes to raise enough money to open up her own workshop in the city and train more girls to become bead-makers.

“I am very grateful for everything done by the project,” Yeluma says. “I was constantly advised to get married to survive the hardship of the crisis, but the positive changes in my life and the learnings from the child-friendly space have brought me hope for a better future.”

Yeluma’s life has changed course so many times, and she’s experienced intense struggles. With the support of those who believe in her, and the skills and knowledge she’s gained, she can carve her own path. Her future is hers.

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Catalina Fischer
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