It’s extraordinary how much you can achieve with the right partner! We haven’t even passed the one-year mark, and already our newest partnership in Uganda is creating amazing long-term, sustainable changes in the lives of individual girls and their communities.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. If that famous saying is true, then you want that village to be a strong, cohesive community where every one of its children has the opportunity to flourish. Regardless of their gender.
But the effects of poverty, coupled with traditionally held beliefs and misinformation can get in the way – and all too often it’s women and girls who miss out. They don’t get an education. They get married too young. They don’t have a voice. And they don’t reach their potential.
Tackling massive, complex issues like poverty takes time. But it’s surprising how quickly you can create improvements in the lives of women and girls when you help communities discover new approaches to old problems.
We know this because we’ve seen some remarkable changes through our partnership with the wonderful Bulogo Women’s Group in Uganda.
You might remember from our story a couple of months back that Bulogo Women’s Group (BWG) is an all-female team of passionate change-makers who work with 30 communities in the Kamuli district, about 3 hours outside Uganda’s capital of Kampala (shown in red on the map above).
The partnership between One Girl and BWG has been an incredible meeting of hearts and minds. Both our teams are passionate about tackling the interconnected issues of gender equality, menstrual and reproductive health, and educational opportunity for girls.
Our collaboration is changing everything from the way parents see their daughters and girls they see themselves, to the way girls perform at school and how communities define their responsibility to their women and girls.
When we started our partnership, BWG was already running a series of programs that in many ways mirrored our Business Brains and LaunchPad programs – so there was a nice fit between our organisations right from day one.
But it was BWG’s emphasis on community engagement that made us really excited about our potential to reach more people and have a sustained, long-lasting impact.
The BWG team has really strong connections with their communities and works closely with them to ensure solutions are tailor-made for and by those communities.
Back in the old days of development, well-meaning NGOs often came into a community and implemented ‘solutions’ they thought were best for the people living in those communities – without consultation. It wasn’t a very respectful way to work – nor was it that effective or sustainable. Once the NGO finished their project, the changes weren’t likely to stick because the community had had no part in the planning or implementation process.
In contrast, community-led initiatives have long-lasting benefits because you’re not relying on one person, or one group of people to implement and maintain change – it becomes a community effort and shared mission.
This is what BWG does so well.
They run everything from big community meetings where leaders, parents, teachers and young people all come together to discuss a range of topics, through to small group discussions and activities focused on a specific topic.
The result is that the BWG team has a really thorough understanding of the issues they work on. And just as importantly, the communities they work with feel heard and understood, so they are way more willing to embrace the solutions BWG puts forward.
Using this community engagement approach as a foundation for our work, One Girl and BWG have been implementing three programs that work together to raise the educational status of girls in the Kamuli district – One Girl Clubs, Business Brains, and Community Education.
Each program has its own distinct features and purpose. But because all three run at the same time, the collective impact massively increases the rate of positive change and cements those changes so they stay in place, even after BWG’s project ends.
Ultimately here’s what we are aiming to achieve through our partnership’s three programs:
• To engage and mobilize communities to support girls’ education
• To increase the enrolment of students in the school
• To increase girls’ access to education
• To change the life condition of girls through education
• To empower girls economically
One Girl Clubs
One Girl Clubs are designed to spread important messages about educating girls, preventing teenage pregnancy, ending gender-based violence and more – using confidence-building activities like debates, presentations, sports, writing and poetry, and music.
The clubs are run through the school system. So far we’ve reached 5,000 girls and boys through 34 primary schools and four secondary schools. Every one of these schools has expressed support for the clubs, which they say have done so much to build confidence among students.
There’s also a very practical component to the One Girl Clubs, where students make sanitary pads using local materials. They also distribute Makapads (the disposable and biodegradable pads) and Afripads (the locally-made reusable pads). We’re doing a study of the pros and cons of these three options to work out the best way to help women and girls manage their periods effectively.
￼In the Business Brains program, girls take part in business training over a four-month period, gaining the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as a business owner.
Each girl receives a grant to start a small-scale business, together with ongoing mentoring and support from the business coaches to ensure success into the future.
So far we’ve trained 200 girls between the ages of 12 and 24 years, and already 160 of them have started businesses selling things like books and paper, poultry and livestock, pancakes and groceries. Most girls co-manage their enterprises with their mothers, so they can still attend school.
Bitali is just 14 years old and has already established a promising little business that’s providing much-needed income:
“The business training got me out of the comfort zone. My mother gave me two local chickens that laid eggs and I would sell to the shops. I learned to save money, which has helped my mother buy me school supplies. Then, with the grant from BWG, I have been able to buy 50 more chickens that my mother looks after at home and now we are able to provide an income for my family.”
Part of the community engagement process we described earlier includes educating the broader community on some of the important issues covered in the One Girl Clubs.
In all 30 communities in the Kamuli district, BWG runs sessions where people discuss new ways to think about issues like girls’ rights related to education, economics and reproductive health and hygiene.
They confront prejudices and traditionally held beliefs, stereotypes and misconceptions – replacing them with facts and new understanding. Imagine how much more effective the One Girl Club programs are when awareness and attitudes are changing in the broader community at the same time!
To give you a feel for the change that’s possible, just listen to what one father said after participating in a community engagement session on menstrual health and hygiene. And as you read, keep in mind that in Uganda menstruation is considered a taboo subject that’s shrouded in stigma and therefore incredibly misunderstood.
“I am a father of 4 daughters. From the meeting on Menstrual Hygiene, I am surprised by the ease with which the facilitators, parents and youth have talked about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. I now have the information and feel comfortable talking to my daughters about menstruation and I call upon my fellow men to support our daughters, talk to them and let them know menstruation is good and healthy. I also call upon the boys in our village to know the facts and stop the stigma.”
Of course change doesn’t move at an even pace. Sometimes it can take a while for some community members to embrace new ideas. But the BWG team is experienced at gently encouraging the process.
In one village, for example, a 14-year-old girl called Mercy was under pressure from her father to get married to a village businessman. The Bulogo Women’s Group met with Mercy and her mother and together resolved to continue her education. With the support of BWG and local leaders, Mercy and her mother were then able to convince Mercy’s father to allow her to stay in school.
Mercy told us that the outreach message had strengthened her determination to continue her education. She is now a member of a One Girl Club and working to inspire other girls to continue their education.
Just imagine what it would be like to be a girl in one of these communities where BWG is working. To feel the impact of your parents’ and wider community’s change in attitude to you and your rights. To suddenly be able to stay in school instead of being married to someone chosen for you. To learn how your body works, how to avoid pregnancy and how to manage your period.
￼Imagine the flow-on effects in families and the wider community as girls and boys with business skills start helping their families generate income for essentials that had once been unaffordable.
And it’s through your support that BWG is able to carry out this important, life-changing work. Whether you donate to us, chuck on a school dress and Do It In A Dress, give up your birthday for One Girl, or help us spread the word, you’re making these changes possible.
We’re so proud to be partners with this extraordinary organisation and, with your support, to be contributing to immediate and ongoing positive change for women and girls, their families and ultimately their whole communities.