We let them know that we are listening!
Across the globe, girls who are educated marry later and have smaller families. Their children are healthier and will receive a better education too. But, due to cultural norms, it may not be enough to simply attend school. A girl also needs “someone in her corner,” says Monica Swai, Managing Director for Operations, Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (or GLAMI). GLAMI is AfricAid’s implementation partner for the Kisa Project and Binti Shupavu programs in Tanzania.
Monica knows this from personal experience, and this Mother’s Day, she shares her story.
I was born and raised in a family of three kids, me being the second born and the only girl. I was lucky to be born in a family that believed in equality. Unlike most in Tanzania, both of my parents went to college, and it was important for all their children to get a good education too. However, even with parents that were college educated, understanding, and somewhat open-minded, there were still some issues that were taboo.
We never discussed about puberty or sex education at home as my parents assumed I was getting that knowledge in school — but I wasn’t. I had to learn about these things from peers and friends, like so many other girls in Tanzania. I was a bit lucky to learn about menstruation from a group of women who came to our school, talked about it, and gave us pads. So when I got my period I didn’t tell my mom for almost two years until I ran out of the free sanitary pads that I had been collecting from the women’s group.
The same situation happened for me the first time I had sex. I had my first serious boyfriend my first year in college. One night we had sex and I got pregnant that same day. My son is my world and I would not trade him for anything. Now that he is older, we make such a strong team, he and I. I would only change the timing. Back then, I had to work even harder to raise my son alone and complete my college education. I wish I had more information on the matter before going in, I wish I had someone I trusted and I could be open with about my fears and doubts… I wish I had Kisa!!
A Tanzanian girl is mainly prepared to get married and take care of the husband, children and the house, and just few days before her wedding she will finally learn (an incomplete picture) about sex (and pleasing the man) and later how to care for the kids.
It’s still not a common thing to share struggles and fears with each other. Most of the secondary school girls GLAMI mentors do not have anyone in their corner, so we become the one person who believes in them, the one person that lifts them up, encourages them, and reminds them every single day how powerful and capable they are. There are currently 33 Mentors and 2 professional social workers supporting over 6,000 girls in our two programs. The majority of these college-educated women are also Kisa graduates.
We let the girls know that it’s okay to ask for help and seek knowledge about their bodies. We let them know that they have someone in their corner who believes in their dreams and will stand by their side and guide them through decision making to become the young women they want to be. We let them know that we are listening!
The girls we mentor in Kisa and Binti Shupavu become confident and realize their self worth.
This is important because men prey on girls who appear weak, not self-assured. One Binti Shupavu Scholar had a catcalling problem with a public transport driver. He yelled out to her everyday for weeks on her way to school. With the confidence she got from Binti, she walked up to him one morning and said, “Stop! I know you are not serious about me, you just want to ruin my life. If you really love me and want to marry me — go talk to my father.” That was the end of the harassment for her. She then shared the story with the other girls in her class, encouraging them to stand up for themselves.
In addition to the many mentoring relationships, GLAMI also hosts an annual Health Symposium for all Kisa Scholars. During this event, we bring in medical experts to explain to the young women how their bodies and reproductive cycles work. They can ask questions in a safe space and receive factual information.
Our approach is effective. In a survey of 129 young women who completed the Kisa curriculum between 2014 and 2019, it was determined that only 3% had become pregnant since high school graduation. This compares to the national average of over 50% of women aged 21-30.
Our Scholars make plans for their future far beyond the future that was already drawn for them. This is why the work we do at GLAMI matters, a lot. These young women will be great mothers one day – when the time is right.
As Managing Director for Operations of Girls Livelihood and Mentoring Initiative, Monica ensures that the organization’s day-to-day activities run smoothly and within budget. After earning an advanced diploma in accountancy from the Institute of Accountancy, Monica joined AfricAid TZ as a part-time accountant in 2012. She was promoted to Operations Manager in 2014 and Director of Operations in 2018. When she’s not busy with balance sheets and regulatory compliance, Monica enjoys going to restaurants and movies with her son, planning her next travel adventure with her friends, and cheering for Manchester United F.C. Meet Monica.
AfricAid mentors secondary school girls in Tanzania to complete their education, develop into confident leaders, and transform their own lives and their communities. We equip girls to overcome challenges and reach their full potential because educated girls create lasting positive change. The outcome is proactive, resilient, and socially-responsible girls who secure better jobs, raise healthier families and increase the standing of women in society.
Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI) is AfricAid’s program implementation partner in Tanzania.