Because I am a Girl - Plan International USA

by Plan International USA
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Rosemary
Rosemary

If only she’d known more about her own body and had help from a health teacher, like the one who has been working at her school for the past few months through a Plan International program. Then, life could have been completely different forRosemary.

Now, she is stuck in an incredibly difficult situation. She has dropped out school and is six months pregnant with the child of a stranger.

“School was always a challenge for me,” said Rosemary. “We do not have much money at home, so buying textbooks or a uniform was difficult. Still, I managed to follow a few lessons with the help of others. Until I had my first period.”

Rosemary used old rags to prevent blood from leaking out while she was at school.

“But that didn’t work very well and I got blood on my dress,” she said. “I was ashamed and when I had my period I stayed home from school. I did not feel so good.”

One day a stranger approached Rosemary.

“He told me that I could buy sanitary pads and that they would protect me against the blood,” she said. “He was happy to give me money. I bought the pads and was very happy until the man visited our house a few days later. He said he wanted the money back, but I didn’t have the money. We went to the man’s home and to pay the debt I had to have sex with him.”

Rosemary did not know you could get pregnant from having sex.

“Nobody had ever told me this,” she said. “My old classmates have told me that they now have a special teacher at school who tells them about things like this. This lady also gives self-made emergency pads to the girls who need them. They make the emergency pads at the Health Club after school. I wish I had known all that.”

Many children in Uganda – both boys and girls – have little knowledge about their own bodies. Girls do not know what is happening to them when they get their period. The first time it happens, many think they are ill or even dying. They do not know how to protect themselves.

To increase the knowledge children have about such things, Plan set up a health education program in Uganda. In addition, after school, children get together at health clubs to learn more about the subject and talk about their experiences.

Sadly, Rosemary saw no other solution than to quit school. She and her mother are devastated.

“I wish my daughter could finish school,” her mother said. “It is important. Then she would have had a better chance in life than I got. Now that is impossible.”

Rosemary’s mother hopes her daughter can go back to school after the birth, but it won’t be easy.

“My daughter is too ashamed,” she said.

Anabelita and her 3-year-old daughter Joaninha
Anabelita and her 3-year-old daughter Joaninha

Anabelita carries her 3-year-old daughter Joaninha carefully in her arms as she makes her way to an early childhood education center run by Plan International.

“I’m happy, because I can help my daughter to prepare for the future,” Anabelita said.

She is Anabelita’s only surviving child. 

At the beginning of April, streams will dry out, the leaves of trees will turn brown, and the earth in the fields will crack. Children will have to dig deeper and deeper to find water from muddy holes, and the water will become dirtier. 

It was contaminated water that led to the death of Anabelita’s first daughter. 

“My daughter got diarrhea when she was nine months old,” she said. “I noticed that she was sick. I tried to nurse her and carried her everywhere in my arms.” 

After five days of illness, her daughter suddenly went limp in Anabelita’s arms. She called an ambulance, but it was too late. Her daughter died on the way to the hospital. 

“I was shocked and distressed,” she said. “It was very difficult.” 

Mothers in the community rallied round to support and console Anabelita. They understood her sorrow, because many of them had also lost their young children due to diarrhea or other preventable childhood diseases. 

When Plan’s early childhood education center opened in her village, she was able to take part in educational meetings for parents. There she learned that she should have taken her sick daughter to hospital as soon as she fell ill. She also learned that just boiling drinking water is not enough. It is also necessary to wash hands frequently, boil all water for household use, and build toilets farther away from houses. 

“At the early childhood education center, community volunteers explain to the parents that they should not wait too long with a sick child before going to the hospital,” said Maria Beatriz Samento, who is in charge of the early childhood education center. “Often, parents wait for several days before taking the child to the clinic, and by then it can be too late.” 

Anabelita is now determined that Joaninha will not experience the same fate as her first daughter. She now knows how to safeguard her daughter’s life and provide her a safer future.

Yuma, 15
Yuma, 15

Yuma, 15, of Nicaragua has spent her entire life in an environment that does not value girls and women as much as boys and men. Where she lives, violence is the norm. However, with the help of Plan International, she is working to change the tide. As an agent of change through Plan’s Girl Power Project, she is making a true difference.

This is her story:

Acts of violence are common in my community. I’ve seen physical violence, trauma, and bullying. A lot of it has taken place at the hands of gangs.

In my neighborhood, there are many gangs. They loiter on the streets, harassing boys and girls, and encouraging fights. When they see us girls, they walk towards us and try to touch our hips, our shoulders, and our face.

Gangs scare us. This kind of behavior causes confidence issues and leads to a lack of self-esteem, especially for girls my age. If we wear tight trousers, we are harassed.

It’s hard to be a girl in Nicaragua, as we are much more disadvantaged than boys. Men have all the power – especially at home. They are the ones who make the decisions.  

However, being part of Plan’s Girl Power Project has made me realize that women are just as strong as men and that life doesn’t have to be like this. This realization, along with seeing people suffer from violence, is the reason I became an agent of change.

When Plan visited my neighborhood to tell us about the program, I decided I wanted to change peoples’ mind-sets around violence. I wanted to develop new ideas and I wanted to help those who have suffered harassment.

When I became an agent of change, I noticed that a girl I knew was suffering from low self-esteem. Her mother was violent and her friends used to bully her. I could see she was in a low place, so I befriended her; she eventually told me how she was feeling.  I told her to try and see life in a positive way. Since she has found someone to confide in, I have seen a positive change.

For me, it is important to support victims of violence in any way I can. If I am unable to deal with the case, I seek help from teachers, peers, or those who work for Plan International. The most important thing is to support the victim in any way possible.

As young people, we want to be free to express who we are – but this freedom comes with challenges. For some, parents are not supportive, while others are scared of rejection.

Plan’s training has helped in many ways. I have learned how to interact with people and how to express myself. I now know what to do if someone is suffering from violence. I enjoy learning new things, and when I see someone has found happiness with my support it makes me feel good.

I am keen to continue learning and sharing my ideas with others. I feel confident that women can achieve as much as men. I am determined to keep learning and hopefully go to college one day to study psychology.

 

For the past three years, your support has been building a foundation in communities for girls in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India, a country with more child laborers than anywhere else in the world. In this region, child labor affects girls far more than boys—but your support is changing the landscape for girls and their families, who often feel they have no choice but to send their children to work.

Your contributions have helped build a vibrant and comprehensive support network made up of government leaders, labor union members, and families who, by working together, are changing the cultural attitudes about child labor. Strengthening and boosting the education system and keeping girls and boys safely in school is the most effective way to prevent child labor. Vocational training also provides youth with stable and productive alternatives and opportunities.

Child forums, like the one pictured above, are critical to strengthening girls’ leadership and participation skills so that they can truly create change for the better in their own lives and communities. Your gifts take girls out of the labor market and puts them back on the path to learning. In school, children can be children. They can live out their childhoods in safe and supportive learning environments and fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

Thank you for playing a critical role in preventing child labor in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

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Girls in Ethiopia open their Be Girl products
Girls in Ethiopia open their Be Girl products

Don't forget to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th!

“Many girls come from rural areas, and they’ve never heard of menstruation before. They are very scared, and they think it is something bad happening. Sometimes they are too ashamed to tell their parents or anyone.” Sixteen-year-old Edagegn from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, explains the heartbreaking situation that many girls at her school face, simply because no one talks about menstruation. 

But let's get real. Menstruation might be an awkward topic, but it is keeping girls out of school. And that means we need to give it some serious thought.

When Plan launched a program two years ago to improve primary education for girls in Addis Ababa, it was clear that menstrual hygiene management would need to be a critical part. There were no safe toilets or water facilities at the schools, and many girls were using old rags or dirty cloths to manage their periods. It was no surprise that girls were often forced to stay home from school for a week every month. So we made sure that menstrual hygiene management training for girls and for teachers was an integral part of the program, along with a free sanitary pad service. 

But there was one problem: The only decent sanitary products available were disposable… and wouldn’t last after the project ended. The few reusable products that were available were prone to leak during use and even to mildew after washing.

It seemed too good to be true when we met Diana Sierra, CEO of the company Be Girl, which creates quality, reusable sanitary products for girls. Diana uses innovative design and high-performance material to develop a product that any girl would be proud to own. Together, Be Girl and Because I am a Girl are getting the highest quality materials into the hands of the hardest-to-reach girls. 

About the Because I am a Girl Program in Ethiopia

In October 2012, with the incredible support of our donors, Plan launched a program in 8 schools in the slums of Addis Ababa to help them become friendlier places for girls to learn.  Five water tanks and two sets of safe toilets were installed, over 1,000 uniforms and school materials were distributed, and extracurricular programs were created to give girls the support they needed to thrive at school.

Girls in these schools also learned how to safely manage menstruation, and free sanitary pads were available to girls when they needed them.  A school administrator noted, “Girls used to stay home during menstruation, but now they don’t miss even a second of school.  I keep the sanitary pads in my jacket pocket all the time in case the girls need them. We also used to have a shortage of water, and the children would bring water in plastic bags to school if they could afford it. But with the new water tank, there is always a supply of water for drinking and washing.”

About Be Girl 

Diana Sierra, the CEO of Be Girl, didn’t always work in social enterprise. Her background includes consulting in industrial design for companies as diverse as Panasonic and Nike. But when she realized the struggles that girls faced in developing countries every month trying to manage menstruation, she decided to use her skills for another purpose—“empowering women through design.” And thus, Be Girl was born. 

The first Be Girl product was a leak-proof sanitary pad that could be easily washed and reused. The girls in Uganda who tried to first prototype loved everything about it… except for the black color. They said it was boring! So Diana responded with pads in blue, purple and green, giving girls a product that wasn’t just functional but fun.

But there was another problem. Girls from very poor families sometimes didn’t own underwear and couldn’t use the sanitary pad. So Diana took her design process a step further and created a pair of leak-proof underwear with a mesh pocket, where girls could insert toilet tissue or clean cloths as needed. The final product met the specific needs of the girls and gave them a sense of pride in ownership. 

About the Partnership

In April, Diana traveled to Ethiopia to personally donate 500 reusable pads and 120 pairs of her innovative underwear to the girls in the Because I am a Girl project.  They loved the products - it meets their needs and, what's more, it was designed with love especially for them. Diana says, "I believe that every person has the right to feel ownership of products that fill him or her with pride and a sense of dignity." Diana's products are more than just basic needs; they are vehicles to dignity. And this is at the core of Plan's partnership with Be Girl - a belief that all girls deserve to live with a sense of pride and self-respect.  

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Organization Information

Plan International USA

Location: Warwick, RI - USA
Website: https:/​/​www.planusa.org
Project Leader:
Judithe Registre
Warwick, RI United States
$15,176 raised of $70,000 goal
 
346 donations
$54,824 to go
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