In 2009, FAWE (The Forum for African Women Educationalists) submitted a project on Girls' empowerment in post-conflict countries through vocational training to the Danish International Development Agency (Danida). The idea was to implement a project that would empower out-of-school girls in three conflict-affected fragile states (CAFS) in Africa: Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is estimated that out of the 77 million children not in school, 39 million live in CAFS. Children, especially girls, have either missed out on schooling during the years of conflict, or have never even had the opportunity to enroll in schools in the first place.
According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2006), it is estimated that there are at least 1 million children out of school in Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone- the three countries that FAWE is targeting in this project (Burundi 518,000; Liberia – 142,000; and Sierra Leone – 431,000). Given that over 60% of these children are girls, this means that at least 650,000 girls are out of schools in these countries. Most of these girls are adolescent and have become young mothers without education or other formal skills. Consequently, they have no livelihood and are likely to be exposed to social vices and easily become marginalized and excluded from their communities.
The main objective of the proposed project was to provide out-of-school girls in conflict-affected states the opportunity to acquire technical, vocational and entrepreneurship skills in order to increase their prospects for employment in formal or informal sectors. This will be achieved primarily through the provision of vocational, technical and entrepreneurship training. The training will equip beneficiaries to contribute to the rebuilding of their country in meaningful ways and will provide them with skills and knowledge that will enable them to either find employment or set up income-generating activities. Additionally, the project would also provide some scholarships for continuing education, establish strategic alliances among key stakeholders, establish graduates' associations, and conduct policy advocacy and community mobilization activities. The project was estimated for a total cost of DKK 4,975,000 over three years.
In Sierra Leone, the project started its implementation in September/October 2009 with the full engagement of the government. The launching ceremony as part of the publicity campaign was officially opened by the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone with official parties in attendance, including the Permanent Secretary of Education and heads of units, officials from the Gender Ministry and the association of Chinese women. The event was covered by both the print and electronic media. The process was formalized by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the appointment of a government focal point for the project, as well as a steering committee installed to help direct and implement the program. Roles of the committee included helping to identify the site, providing advice on courses to be undertaken, develop selection criteria for admission and participate in decisions concerning the students.
Five institutions were chosen to participate in the project throughout the country: Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Government Technical Institute, Kissy (GTI); Muraildo Vocational Institution, Kissy (GTI); Sierra Leone Opportunity Industrialization Centre (SLOIC), Makeni; Government Technical Institute (GTI), Magburaka; and Milton Margai College of Technology (MMCET), Congo Cross. Focus was made on 10 diverse subjects according to the country's situation and need after more than 10 years of war, but also according to local context: special arts and craft; the electrical and electronic field; automobile study; printing technology; welding and forging; computer studies; building and construction; plumbing; carpentry; and civil and electrical engineering- all at diploma level.
Community awareness and information were practiced for weeks through community radios and community leaders' support. Students interested took the National Examination and qualified candidates were admitted into the schools. For a good functioning of the schools, a Code of conduct and a Best Practice Guide were developed and distributed to the schools for the use of both teachers and students.
Gender Awareness workshop – a consultant was hired to carry out a gender awareness workshop for all the centers. The purpose was to build the capacities of the students and the teachers in gender sensitivity issues and help them learn to behave better towards each other and be aware and tolerant towards gender differences.
Mentoring- A monthly mentoring program was set up to better empower the students of all 5 centers, teaching them topics such as child education, marriage and health. During these visits, issues related to their school work and home life were discussed. Group mentoring; class mentoring (especially with male students covering the need for girls' education and attitudinal change); and one-on-one mentoring were carried out. These sessions have proven to be very useful as some of the girls partaking in the program had come straight from the streets and with a lack of minimum life skills.
This wonderful partnership between FAWE and Danida has done miracles for girls who had lost all hope for any kind of future. Today, they are becoming prominent people within their communities; they have dreams, plans and most of all a hope for a better life, without depending on older wealthy men with whom almost all of the girls admitted to be in relation in order to survive, as most of them did not have fathers at home to provide for the family. Although a lot of them had children before coming to the centers as they were not sufficiently educated, all of them have now received important information that will prevent them from committing such mistakes in the future.
Some of the girls are worried about their re-introduction into the community after obtaining their degrees as they are aware of the difficulties the community will face in seeing women fixing their cars, and handling their electrical, plumbing and carpentry issues. Fortunately, the project prepares the community in that sense before the girls finish the program and equips them with initial working tools so that they can be independent for a start. This project brings hope to girls who find themselves in an impossible situation, as one of them states: “I never knew girls could do such jobs even though I was dreaming about it. When I told my brother my wish to try the test after we heard the sketch on the radio where a woman was fixing somebody's car, he laughed at me and said that I could never do such a thing, that I better find a husband very quick. Now I am here and doing very well, I am so happy and thankful to FAWE and the DANIDA people. Very soon, I will be able to take care of myself and my mother,” says Fatoumata Camara, a 25 year old student majoring in mechanics at the Makeni School.
Fatoumata Thiam Diallo, FAWE RS Nairobi/ EileenHanciles, FAWE Sierra Leone Coordinator
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