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

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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There are two mechanics regarded by their customers as some of the best car technicians in Guinea. The pair are N’Mahawa, age 25, and Teninké, age 28. Both are women.

Being a girl in a lower-income country like Guinea means a lesser chance of completing your education, and a higher chance of becoming a child bride. For girls who are able to finish school, the opportunities in the job market are slim. And for those young women who do land a job, they end up getting paid less than their male counterparts.

None of that has stopped Teninké and N’Mahawa in pursuing their career goals.

N’Mahawa’s choice to enter the male-dominated field of mechanics was made after her father tried to force her to become a bride.

“After taking my school exams twice without success, my father decided to give me in marriage,” she says. “I told him that marriage was not a solution to my problem. I decided to leave home and join my uncle in Conakry.”

While in Conakry, N’Mahawa saw a training center for mechanics, supported by Plan International, operating to help uplift young people economically — especially women. She approached the building, and that’s when she saw Teninké.

N’Mahawa was taken with Teninké’s passion for both the study of mechanics, and her fervent belief in gender equality. Their friendship blossomed into a business partnership.

“To say that it is impossible for a woman to compare herself to a man is a complete fallacy,” Teninké says. “My dream is to surpass men and I think I am in this dynamic.”

Teninké and N’Mahawa’s skills learned at the vocational center have made them stand out from other male-run businesses. The two are not only showing young girls that they can follow their dreams, but also changing the minds of men in their community.

“Through them, I have come to understand that women, if given the opportunity, can do better than men,” says Mohamed, one Teninké and N’Mahawa’s male customers. “I am even convinced that giving women the right to choose their life in complete autonomy, everywhere in the world, is one of the keys to meeting the challenges of this century.”

Plan continues to work in Guinea to reduce inequalities within workplaces, households and society. But this requires action on several fronts, including help from people like you. Many of Plan’s vocational training participants are sponsored children; you can help make it possible for a girl to access opportunities like Teninké and N’Mahawa’s by becoming a child sponsor today.

“I invite my female colleagues to have confidence in herself — to become autonomous — because a dependent woman is an enslaved woman subjected to the dictates of men,” Teninké says. “We should not accept that. We should not have to wait another 10 years for gender equality. Let’s act now.”

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Nearly one million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are bracing for the deadly impact of COVID-19. Rumors are spreading and panic is growing. The refugee camp is locked down, and girls and young women are in danger.

Plan International’s local staff spoke to girls living in Cox’s Bazar to see how their lives have changed since the camp has been quarantined.

Meghla, 16, has seen how COVID-19 is destroying girls’ lives; violence and forced child marriage are becoming greater threats because of the pandemic.  “I heard about a child marriage recently,” she says. “I tried to stop it and informed local authorities. Unfortunately, they couldn’t respond in time due to lockdown.”

Girls are incredibly anxious about their futures, especially now that schools in the camp are closed. Another girl we spoke with, Rebeka, is spending her time doing chores and trying to teach herself at home. “I’m facing difficulties with my lessons without any guidance from my teachers,” she told us. “I heard that the government of Bangladesh is broadcasting distance learning lessons on TV, but most here aren’t aware of that.”

And menstrual hygiene is becoming almost impossible to manage. Many girls in Cox’s Bazar are using homemade sanitary pads during their periods — they are uncomfortable to wear and unhygienic. “We can’t go to the health center anymore to receive health services,” Rebeka says.

Unable to see healthcare providers, pregnant girls and young women are left with nowhere to turn. Rujina, 19, was married just a few months ago and is now pregnant with her first child. Her husband can no longer work, so they no longer have an income. Rujina needs nutritious food and regular checkups, but staying healthy has become almost impossible.

“This money will run out — I don’t know what we will do then,” she says. “The food will run out too. I’ve learned that pregnant women should lead a happy life and live in a friendly environment. But now I’m living in fear. When will I be able to get back to my normal life?”

Families in Cox’s Bazar don’t have immediate access to information about COVID-19. Distress is becoming widespread, and as a result, there’s been a negative impact on livelihood for everyone in the camp. Especially for girls and children.

But many of the girls in Cox’s Bazar are being protected by Beauty.

Beauty is one of Plan’s case management officers working with Rohingya refugee children in the camp. While everyone fears the devastating impact that COVID-19 could have in Cox’s Bazar, Beauty tries her best to sooth children’s worries. They, in return, promise that they will wash their hands regularly.

Plan staff has run COVID-19 information sessions; ensured water, hygiene and sanitation facilities are operational; distributed hygiene kits and continued child protection work. Staff wear personal protective equipment and undergo routine temperature checks to ensure the camp’s safety.

“My only thought is the wellbeing of the children and seeing the beautiful smiles on their faces,” Beauty says. But as the virus continues to spread, she still can’t help but worry. “If someone is infected, it will spread like wildfire before anyone realizes.”

Refugee girls in the camp were already living through an enormous humanitarian disaster. COVID-19 is amplifying the devastation. This is just the beginning, and the situation is likely to get much worse. Tomorrow is more uncertain than ever for girls in Cox’s Bazar.

But not all is lost. “I am not losing hope yet,” Meghla told us.

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As of April 26, Zimbabwe had 31 confirmed cases of COVID-19. And just like most of the world, the measures taken to stop the spread of the virus has had a significant impact on the country, including school closures and lock downs. We know that girls and women will suffer from secondary effects of the virus — increased gender-based violence, not returning to school, early and forced marriages, and the list of potential impacts goes on.

But what does everyday life look like for adolescent girls right now? We interviewed girls ages 13-18 via phone calls because we wanted to make sure our response was tailored to this age group, which is often forgotten as attention is focused on young children or women more broadly. The answers are far direr and heartbreaking than expected.

“I feel very very sad and worried because I am locked here in [name of town*]. My family is in Bulawayo town while I am here living in a small and crowded room,” said Precious* when she was asked what her biggest need is right now. “I have no pads, no food and no money [...] I failed to raise enough money to travel to Bulawayo when we were informed that schools were closing earlier by our School Head […] I don’t know where I am going to get the money for me to be able to travel to Bulawayo and am not sure if we will be allowed to travel any time soon. I am not able to communicate with my family and there are no buses.

“This is going to affect my results when I finally sit for the exams. I am not able to study because most of the time I will be busy begging for food, which most families are no longer able to give […] What can I do, I don’t have much and I have to survive.”

The response from Precious was echoed by classmates as girls are worried about meeting their basic needs — and although they are anxious and afraid, they very much want to continue learning. They are experiencing hunger, separation from family, a lack of hygiene products and other necessities, as well as extremely heightened anxiety.

Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, Plan International had begun to work with Precious and other adolescent girls to address root causes that prevent them from finishing secondary school. The girls challenged several aspects of traditional development design, which were collected into a previous blog post. In response, architectural and building plans were being put in place to build a dormitory, and programming to better support students was being developed. While these activities will resume once it is safe to do so, girls can’t wait that long.

Using interviews to better understand the immediate needs, funds are being repurposed for activities such as those listed below.

  • Provision of supplies to keep girls and their families safe: distribution of emergency kits including solar lamps, hand sanitizer, reusable masks and sanitary materials.
  • Provision of basic needs through cash transfers to girls to cover immediate food insecurity for the next three months.
  • Learning support to help keep girls on track through the distribution of materials, including one reading set per adolescent comprising math, integrated science, biology, chemistry, physics, geography and English.
  • Later the team will broaden learning though the development and distribution of virtual life skills lessons. 

Development practitioners know from past responses that crises hit the most vulnerable, including girls, the hardest. However, despite on-the-ground experiences, there is lack of data to detail the full impact on girls’ lives. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, the international development industry must make it a priority to include girls in response planning first and foremost to ensure that programs are addressing girls’ immediate needs and priorities, and secondly to ensure that accurate data, disaggregated by gender and age, is captured so that the development community can respond more quickly during the next crisis. Without taking these steps, past mistakes will be repeated and lessons for future crises will not be learned.

*Name removed for protection purposes.

*Name changed for protection purposes.

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Plan International USA

Location: Warwick, RI - USA
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Twitter: @PlanUSA
Project Leader:
Catalina Fischer
Warwick, RI United States
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