Our most recent update from GCN comes directly from its founder, Betty Makoni.
Business in the high-density suburb of Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe came to a halt on March 28th when hundreds of girls marched in celebration of their 10th Anniversary. Chitungwiza is a high-density suburb east of Harare and this is the place where Betty Makoni and the first ten students (many who are in different parts of the world now pursuing their careers) launched GCN’s first girls club.
To date, more than 60,000 girls are believed to be members of the Girl Child Network and thousands of girls have been transformed from perceived victims into survivors and then leaders. There are over 700 girls clubs in Zimbabwe and the network has 80% of its members in remote parts of the country. 17-year-old Stembile Mabhena who is GCN’s Secretary General and girls representative on the board, delivered the keynote address. Meanwhile, Betty Makoni delivered a speech to girls in Zimbabwe and urged them to do whatever in their capacity and empowerment skills they acquired over the past 10 years to continue the vision and mission of Girl Child Network where their activism is critically needed.
She reassured girls that all efforts are being made to keep poor and orphaned girls in school and support girls empowerment program. An impassioned appeal has already been made to the donor community to continue to allocate resources to girl child empowerment programs.
Meanwhile, GCN communications has also opened a congratulatory book where many girls and GCN stakeholders continue to pour in their messages. Thousands of girls have thronged GCN offices across the country to pass on messages since many cannot access the Internet. It is reported many girls in their respective clubs have organized activities at club level to mark the 10th Anniversary. Many events to mark GCN 10th anniversary will be ongoing throughout the world and GCN supporters based in California, including IDEX, met in April to congratulate GCN. Three Global awards for GCN have also been announced. California-based Wisdom In Action will honor Betty Makoni with an Unsung Hero award while the World Children’s Prize has announced that 13 year GCN Publicity Secretary Lisa Bonongwe is part of the Child Jury that will select 2009 child rights decade hero. Ashoka recently released a statement that Betty Makoni has been selected as one of the Young Global Forum Leaders for 2009 and this is expected to take GCN to greater heights. Looking ahead, many girls in Africa have joined girls in Zimbabwe and this year countries like Tanzania and Ghana are on course to replicate the Girl Child Empowerment Model.
GCN recently reported to us about their activities for the last 6 months of 2008. Despite the challenges facing GCN and the people of Zimbabwe GCN continues to be effective in serving girls, albeit in new ways amidst the well-known turmoil in Zimbabwe.
While the government had restricted some of GCN’s activities, GCN reports they provided school fees for 81 girls, including orphans, underprivileged and those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS
As well as paying school fees for girls they are also providing emergency assistance such as food packs and sanitary supplies for girls living in desperate conditions.
The Hwange Empowerment Village, the shelter for abused or abandoned girls, also continues to provide limited services.
Nothing short of remarkable, GCN continues to provide a vision along with critically needed services for a brighter Zimbabwe.
GCN’s Girls Empowerment Clubs face tremendous challenges due to the difficult social and political context currently in Zimbabwe. The government passed a ban on public gatherings and a ban on NGOs carrying out their field operations. Due to the dangerous conditions, teachers refrained from attending schools. Club visits had to be suspended.
Thankfully, a compromise was reached to ensure the empowerment clubs continue functioning. GCN is providing one-on-one sessions with the club coordinators and club presidents, and conducting telephone support calls encouraging clubs to carry out their activities.
The challenges of the country make GCN’s work all the more important. GCN provides these girls with a safe place for counseling, support and empowerment while also providing them with opportunities for training, education, scholarships and employment. The current struggles have forced GCN to become more creative in addressing local challenges, and they are improving Girls Empowerment Clubs with less supervision.
Girl Child Network of Zimbabwe co-sponsored a conversational reception at the International AIDS Conference, August 3-8, 2008 in Mexico City to feature empowered girl children who shared what they have gained from being part of GCN’s girls’ empowerment clubs.
Currently there are about 60,000 girls involved with GCN activities, mainly through its girl empowerment clubs. These clubs provides girl members to with a local support network and a forum to voice their abuses, challenges, needs and successes. It is also through the girl empowerment clubs that GCN is carrying out leadership development to young girls who are club presidents.
An 18-year old GCN girl club member attending this reception at the International AIDS Conference expressed the following: “I used to not be good in public speaking but because of GCN and its trainings I am able to do this now. I also used to think that only a boy child could do everything but now I know that I can also do anything that I set my mind to. Anything is possible for me too.”
While Zimbabwe is facing many challenges, GCN is still operating providing critical support and education to girl children in Zimbabwe.
In the past year, GCN’s Community Development and Empowerment Program organized several activities for its HIV-prevention campaigns that included sensitization of traditional and church leaders on gender, HIV/AIDS and sexual abuse.
GCN organized a workshop with 44 traditional and church leaders in Chiredzi to impart knowledge on girl child abuse, gender and HIV/AIDS. Participants were encouraged to participate in a dialogue about the above-mentioned topics and their relation to the patriarchy that exists in their communities. As a result of this workshop, there was an increased commitment of traditional and religious leaders to reduce girl child abuse.
GCN Award Update
Betty Makoni, founder of Girl Child Network (GCN) in Zimbabwe was awarded the 2008 Ginetta-Sagan Award for Women's and Children's Rights.
“We are transforming victims into survivors, survivors into leaders. We help girls stand on their own feet and fight back against violence and exploitation.” Betty Makoni.
This prestigious award, overseen by Amnesty International, comes at a time of even greater uncertainty in Zimbabwe. The results of the Zimbabwe Presidential election is now heading off to a run-off on June 27, in the midst of growing violence in the country.
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