Tag Archives: girls’ education

Peter Simms – Afghanistan – In these rooms, women had power

27 Mar

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

This month, classes at Children in Crisis’ current five Community Based Education Centres (CBECs) project in Afghanistan, came to an end. We are now working on opening Centres within other communities that need their support.

Every community project comes to an end and interventions, however long, can never be permanent. These five latest Education Centres run by Children in Crisis have been incredibly successful, helping women and children to access basic education. 300 children, mostly girls, from some of the poorest communities in Kabul have been able to gain a full primary education despite never having previously been to school. In addition, over 1,000 women from these communities have learned to read, write, and develop other critical skills at the CBECs.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

For the girls who came to these Centres they will be half as likely to marry before their 16th birthday, and far less likely to be a mother before the age of 15. The women will be twice as likely to have their own children live past the age of five, and for every year of schooling will have a 20 per cent increase in household earnings.

However, the benefits of these centres go beyond statistics. The girls and women who came to these five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

From extensive research done around the world, we know that girls who learn to read and write will be more likely to work, to support their families, and to be economically independent. But the realities of life here in Afghanistan pose an added barrier to this empowerment. The lack of access to education for girls in Afghanistan was always a symptom of broader gender inequalities and reflected deep social norms inhibiting their participation in not only schools, but also in society and communities as a whole.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Reducing education to its rate of return is simply inadequate as a measure of impact in Afghanistan. Instead we need to look closer, to look harder at what education actually means to children and women of these communities. Paolo Freire showed how education allows people to be able to read the world – to describe, and then define, their contexts – to be truly conscious.

As I spoke to women in the CBECs it was clear that, despite progress made, their world is still not one of open opportunity.  However, the Community Education Centres offered something more – ‘A place to gather’ was the most common response; ‘a chance to leave the house’; ‘to be outside’. Many said it was where they could share experiences with other women. Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak. In these rooms women had power, and through shared experience they could develop resilience.

One Community Education Centre is not going to break the deep-rooted structures of gender inequality in Afghanistan, but it can begin a process and encourage dialogue where women have a space to assert themselves and develop their own identities. The skills of reading and writing can then empower that identity, allowing someone to use a telephone, read a medicine box, or help a child with their homework.

Children in Crisis' latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis’ latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis will be opening new CBECs in other marginalised communities over the coming year, taking a model that we know works and expanding it to reach even more women and children. We will work in areas where others don’t go, meaning the challenges will be greater and the achievements relative to just how deprived these communities are.

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

Children in Crisis has currently been able to find support for two new Community Based Education Centres. We are still seeking funding to help us open the remaining three Centres within communities whose children and women need assistance. If you, your company or Charitable Foundation think you could help, please email Peter on peters@childrenincrisis.org

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DR Congo – International Day of Rural Women – Sylvie Lokenze

14 Oct

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

To mark and celebrate the International Day of Rural Women Children in Crisis would like to introduce to you one woman who we very much admire. Sylvie Lokenze works for our local partner NGO, Eben-Ezer Ministry International (EMI) in DR Congo.  As Programme Manager of our Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) project, Sylvie works hard to give women in remote and rural eastern DR Congo a better life. She is passionately dedicated to ensuring that girls are given the chance to go to school and play a part in improving their region. 

 

(The following is a transcription of a telephone interview recently conducted with Sylvie.)

Tell me a little about you – name, age, family, childhood, studies, work

I am Sylvie Pokeeni Lokenze, 23 years old and firstborn to an un-married couple of a female secondary school student (20) and a teacher (30). They tried to make it work as tradition asked them too, but they didn’t manage. I was born after they separated and lived with my mother’s family until the age of 10. My mother managed to complete her studies after I was born, her family was very proud of her because she was amongst a very small minority of girls who got their secondary school diploma in her village at the time.

I started school in 1995 but the war started very quickly (in 1996) and the security and financial situation of my family deteriorated. My mother therefore decided to take up work as a teacher and eventually taught at my school. I studied more quickly than other children, worked hard at school and everyone said that I took after my mother. I felt loved.

In 2001, my mother remarried and a little later on they moved to a town in North Kivu. I then went to live with my father in Bukavu. On the outskirts of Bukavu there was a technical school, run by the Catholic Church. My father wanted me to go there after primary school. He signed me up but it was a very difficult school and girls were discouraged from attending as there were only technical subjects (mechanics, woodwork, electrical engineering). I managed to finish the 2nd Grade (with difficulty!) after which I was guided to specialise in vehicle mechanics rather than machinery (the latter was my father’s preference).

Sylvie Lokenze

Sylvie Lokenze.

 

Lots of things happened during my 6 years at secondary school. Six years that weren’t really happy, but the worst time was a certain Saturday when I learnt from one of my uncles that my mother was in a very poor state and was waiting for me at my grandma’s. She had come home to give birth to her 3rd child with her husband. The baby wasn’t planned and was born in the same hospital as me. Sadly he died some months later. My mother suffered a lot and at the end she had difficulty in recognising me and my three brothers. At the time of her death I was on a work placement in a garage in Katana village. I was one of the last hear of her death and I arrived 3 days after her funeral in August 2006.

In 2007, my father found another job in Uvira. I stayed with my uncle so I could finish my mechanical studies – I only had one year left. I had work placements in mechanics and I also followed an office management course. I managed to get lots of temporary work at the ICRC (International Red Cross) as their mechanic to earn some money. I started an undergraduate degree in IT Maintenance in Bujumbura. On returning to Uvira, I started working as an IT trainer and got an internship with a microfinance organisation and eventually I became Client Manager. At this time I signed up to an MA in IT and Management – I developed excellent competences in financial and client management.

I then applied to the post of VSLA manager at EMI and I was selected. I was so happy, as this opened the door to my dreams: to work in the development and humanitarian sector, to participate in intercommunity development, to be involved in peaceful resolution and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable, especially Congolese women.

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo

The remote, beautiful Plateau of eastern DR Congo.

 

Tell me a little about the Plateau – describe the landscape, the climate, the distances etc

Formed by many magnificent hills and peaks, covered by a carpet of velvet grass and wild flowers – once you have reached the summit, you have the sense that the world has transformed – you breathe a pure and unique air.

Often watered by heavy rains, a gentle and dry wind blows constantly, the Plateau temperatures are much lower than in the lowlands. On the Plateau, everyone knows each other and are incredibly loyal which means that they welcome a stranger as one of their own.

The only thing is that it is an isolated zone, as if cut off from the rest of the country. Its people have little access to humanitarian assistance or to development opportunities.

Dependent on a ‘local’ administration 100km away, the Plateau hardly ever benefits from governmental assistance and is classed as an obscurity by the State. Road access is nigh-on impossible for the majority of the year, and besides, the roads only cover a small part of the Plateau. This has resulted in very slow development and accentuates the physical and ‘emotional’ distances between Plateau and lowland dwellers.

A playground for rebel groups, the Plateau has suffered crises of war and intercommunity cohesion is still fragile and at risk due to interethnic conflict that still exists in this region.

Whilst houses in the same village are physically close, even if socially there is a gap, between villages there are huge distances and you have to walk for hours to reach them.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

Plateau women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society.

 

Tell me a little about the women of the Plateau – their lives, opportunities, challenges and hopes.

Daily life for women on the Plateau is difficult due to the role they play in the household. Domestic chores vary from the easy like washing up to the more complex and arduous such as collecting firewood – and they are not able to complain.

The work in the fields that they do, which is a constant, is the principle means of food survival in the household but their integration into the management of their income is not automatic.

Plateau women are in their majority illiterate and they find themselves excluded from socio-professional development. Even though they have the intellectual capacity and a huge socio-economic potential, they are not included in decision-making which has created an inferiority complex leading them to be unaware of their capacities and strengths.

These women fight for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family but have very few opportunities to reach their goals. They want to have and enjoy their rights, but how to get there? When even the most fundamental of rights, like the right to education and/or male-female equality are a long way from being understood and honoured?

These women are crying out for recognition and the respect of their rights, yet no-one is looking out for them – not the government, not society. They are abandoned to their lot and have just one hope – that one day things will change.

Are there tasks that are just for women – which ones and why?

Yes!

For example, rendering the houses, collecting firewood and fetching water, finding food for the family, cooking, washing up, laundering clothes. Making sure the house and children and clean and the hardest of all work – fieldwork (cultivating, seeding, weeding, transporting seeds to and produce from fields…). To the good question ‘why’, perhaps an inappropriate response is ‘because these tasks are deemed to be easy’ – and that in the eyes of men.

We have to compare ‘male’ work such as looking after and milking cows and cutting the grass in the fields before the women come and hoe, plant and weed them.

How is fieldwork? At what age do girls start to work the fields?

Fieldwork requires maximum force, getting up before day breaks, working in cold and wet conditions (many times the ground will be rock hard with frost), sometimes you have to walk for hours simply to reach the fields and harvest, you have to transport the products back home and then on to market which are situated many km apart. In brief, a long-term endeavour that necessitates courage and sacrifice and without which survival on the Plateau would not be possible. Girls from around the age of 10 are expected to help their mothers in the fields. There are many cases where girls will have to work before and after school.

Why should rural women and girls be educated? If they are just going to end up in the fields, what is the point?!

Of course!

Educating girls is just as important as educating boys – it is their right and it gives them the opportunity to participate in the transformation of living conditions; not just for women and girls, but for the whole community which is still a long way from being full of rights and development.

Education opens the doors to success in their own life by diversifying their life choices; spending your whole life in the fields is not a choice for all women, rather an obligatory burden that has been put on their shoulders. Further, the community needs their participation in many other spheres to complement men’s participation; so far, man alone has not managed to get very far with the development of the region.

Through attending school, a woman reinforces her intellectual potential and acquires an additional capacity to reflect, a profound understanding of her rights and responsibilities which allow her to fight for respect and consideration within society.

 

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Associaiton

Women managing their finances at a Village Savings and Loans Association.

 

Do you think that life on the Plateau is changing? For the good? For the bad?

Yes, I have seen a positive change on the Plateau, even in the short time I have been working there. And I think that a huge amount has changed since Children in Crisis  & EMI started working there.

In effect, the Pamoja (VSLA project – Pamoja means ‘together’) project has given a value to women on the Plateau: Firstly through opening up the possibility for women to lead their groups and secondly giving them the possibility to be a holder of financial capital which is a way to be self-sufficient and to be proud of having a place in society.

Nowadays, a woman can count on her own funds without having to approach her husband for authorisation on how to spend any money coming into the household. She has social assistance from her group if she needs it, hope for her projects and believes in a better future for herself and her household.

What else can I say about the benefits of previous projects? In the past, going to funerals or to the market would mean taking children out of school. Before people didn’t know that they should be sending their girls to school – today it is the opposite. People from different ethnic communities didn’t used to be able to discuss and positively dialogue around differences whereas now they are starting to cohabitate positively…

Generally speaking, life is no longer as it used to be thanks to the effective monitoring of change. Reinforce this change, and the future will be even better.

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot

Sylvie showing off her mean right-foot.

 

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

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