Visit to Girls of Hope
Teenage girls in villages around Mbale are vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy, abuse and missed education. So last year Bethel Baptist Church in Mooni, one of the churches linked with a PONT partner in Wales, started a new outreach to girls in their local community. Friends in Wales are supporting the project through this church link and recently some PONT visitors were able to go along and find out what they’ve been up to. This is their report:
Girl children are not treated as equals. These girls have suffered abuses. We are here to restore hope. We hope in 10 years’ time this will be a bright community.” Martin
The group is called Bethel Girls of Hope. Girls age 11-19 from the communities of Bumboi, Busimba, Mukhubu, and Shikunga in Mooni parish, Mbale meet from 9am till 4pm on two Saturdays each month.
The group was started by Martin and Carol who are members of Bethel Mooni, and they bring in other teachers. They’re mostly women, but it was wonderful to see Martin also talk to the girls about the challenges of adolescence and make them seem normal!
Carol then started the teaching session with a re-cap of what they have been learning over the past year, which was great for us as visitors to find out. Topics they have already covered include Critical thinking, Decision making, Menstrual hygiene, Puberty, Communication skills and Empowerment. The teaching is mostly taken from a curriculum called ‘Wise Choices for Life’.
When asked “what have you learned here?” a girl called Juliet said “Hope. Having hope for the future.”
Carol next taught the girls about the changes of adolescence, then there was a chance for the girls to ask any questions they had. They could raise their hands or write them on a piece of paper, so they felt free to share and we were able to hear about some of their challenges. One girl asked about not being able to afford underwear and sanitary protection, and Carol shared her hope that they could have a lesson in how to make reusable sanitary pads if they could get materials and a teacher with that skill.
While we waited for lunch to be ready went outside for some running – there was good fun and lots of laughter, especially when someone suggested an adults race – and the teachers reminded them that keeping healthy is a great way to help with adolescent challenges. When we went inside someone grabbed a drum (they meet in a small church building) and they sang and danced a couple of songs. We could see that they are bonding as a group and wanting to help each other.
Then the older girls served lunch. This is the part where friends from Wales are helping through the PONT church link, as while Bethel Mooni are giving their time very generously the church already supports many other outreaches from their own congregation’s weekly giving and needed extra support to make this project possible.
It is really important to provide lunch and breakfast so that the girls can concentrate on the teaching, as some of them would not have eaten before coming along.
Too often the girls are actually vulnerable because they are hungry – vulnerable to boys or men who offer to buy them a snack, or early marriage to older men if their own family is continually struggling to feed them and send them to school.
While lunch twice a month can’t solve this, knowing that someone is so interested in them, and the skills and knowledge they are learning, can empower them to make good choices and stand up for themselves and their friends.
Two weeks later a teacher came and taught the girls how to make reusable sanitary pads. They learnt in groups and then were each given their own materials and spent the day studiously sewing. Anyone who didn’t finish promised to do so at home and bring their finished work back in two weeks, when they’ll be given cloths that slot into these holders and can start using them.