Background: In a recent trip to Liberia, Girl Up Staff and U.S. Midwest Girl Up Regional Leader Kate McCollum had the opportunity to visit UNICEF programs Girl Up helps fund for adolescent girls. Girls in Liberia experience many forms of violence but through UNICEF programs aimed at girls, they’re able to stay in school and go back to school. This is the first time Girl Up has visited UNICEF’s programs for girls in Liberia since supporting the program in 2010.
By: Kate McCollum
Last year, I had the privilege of traveling to Liberia to meet girls Girl Up and UNICEF impact. I traveled knowing that I was representing thousands of girls across the world who are students, Girl Up leaders, supporters and advocates. Girls in Liberia are just like us and it was great hearing their stories because it only proves how much girls can actually make a change – just like you and me.
There are many things I can talk about, but I’d like to share five ways that Girl Up is empowering girls in Liberia:
Many of the girls I met in Liberia expressed that one of their favorite parts of the Advancing the Rights of Adolescent Girls program was health education. Comprehensive health education is important for girls in order to understand their bodies and feel empowered to have agency of their lives. Girls learn things like sex education, HIV prevention, and nutritional information. Girls like Oreitha, expressed that her favorite part of the program was learning about teenage pregnancy because “it helped us care for ourselves.”
Girls in Liberia are entrepreneurs themselves. Through vocational training they’re learning skills like baking, sewing, soap-making and other skills that allows them to earn a living once leaving UNICEF programs. I even had the chance to taste some of the baked goods – my favorite being a chocolate cake though the girls in Liberia say their favorite thing to bake was coconut bread!
Another cool aspect of empowering girls in Liberia was the incorporation of sports in their every day activities. Sports is a way to teach conflict management and encourage activity. Want to know the best part? When girls play football games for their parents, spectators, and community members, all attendees must select and wear hats that say powerful messages like “I am a child, not a wife” or “I am a girl. I have a right to an education”. Girls will deliver the hats and educates the audience about the phrases written so that anyone attending the games is also educated on these important issues. Activities like these remind me of the time my high school Club and I organized a Powderpuff game where we educated our community about Girl Up.
Something that really struck to me across the different UNICEF programs we visited for girls in Liberia was the impact that friends had on one another. Many of the girls had heard about the program from a friend and that’s how they got connected – kind of how we tell our friends about Girl Up! One of the girls I met, Sonnie, told me that after seeing the girls who graduated from the program go on to be successful, she was inspired to join so that she can also be successful. Girls in the community encouraged Sonnie to check out the program and now she hopes to encourage other girls to do the same. Other girls like Fatumata wanted to go to school because she sees her friends learning to read and write and she really wants to be able to do the same.
A life free from violence:
The girls I spoke to were confident and assured. They had dreams of becoming lawyers and nurses and wanted to dedicate their lives to ensure other girls were safe from violence. In order for girls to live a life free from violence, she needs comprehensive and wholesome support that addresses her physical, mental and social needs. I can picture girls coming together – a nurse and a lawyer – to ensure girls live a life free from violence. Terri, 21 from Monrovia, told me that she hopes to become a lawyer one day, so she can advocate for girls’ right to stay safe from violence.
As a long-time supporter of Girl Up, I have always been dedicated to the causes that Girl Up champions – the right for girls to have an education, to be free from violence and feel safe in their community, access to health services and so much more. The five-and-a-half-hour drive on dirt roads through the countryside of Liberia proved to me that Girl Up is going the lengths necessary to support girls around the world. Girls in Liberia are just like you and me, they have hopes and dreams of going to school and giving back to their communities – something I know we all share as Girl Up Club leaders.
Kate McCollum is a Girl Up Teen Advisor Alumna and Girl Up U.S. Midwest Regional Leader.