By: Kate McCollum, Girl Up Regional Leader
In a recent trip to Liberia, Girl Up Staff and U.S. Midwest Regional Leader Kate McCollum had the opportunity to visit UNICEF programs Girl Up helps fund in Liberia. Girl Up has been supporting programs in Liberia for girls who have experienced violence since 2010.
“I decided to do my studies in marketing because of the confidence I had in myself.” – Fatunata, Monrovia, Liberia. Fatunata’s favorite subject in school is English and she has a passion for communications. Fatunata is one of the many girls I had the chance to meet in Liberia but she wasn’t the only girl who had big dreams and goals for herself.
Sonnie, an adolescent girl from Gbarngay, loves math, and wants to be a nurse one day so that she can help others.
Mechie, attends alternative classes because she can’t attend regular school classes. She told me that these classes are important to girls like her. In fact, she recently learned how to write and spell her name. I never thought how empowering it is to be able to write your own name until I saw her grab a pen and paper only to show me she knew how to spell her name. Mechie says she wants to learn how to read and write, and be able to have a platform to talk about violence against girls. This is why having an education is so important for girls around the world so they can speak about issues that affect them.
Fatunata, Mechie and Sonnie are just some of the girls I had the privilege to meet during Girl Up’s trip to Liberia with UNICEF. Girls in Liberia are courageous in sharing their life stories and their hopes for the future.
Many of the girls we met faced violence and hardship. In fact, 40% of adolescents 15-19 years old report experiencing physical violence by age 15 and 13% report experiencing sexual abuse. Girls emphasized the potential girls have when they are valued; they have the power to change their communities and countries, and I know the girls I met are doing just that.
A common theme all the girls shared with me was how health information and education impacted their lives.
Patience was 13 when she had her first child, and had two more children after that. She expressed the difficulty she faced in caring for them while trying to attend school. Now she is 19, and since entering a Girl Up supported UNICEF program that teaches comprehensive sex education, she hasn’t had another child. She told me, “The program changed me. When I came here they taught me how to take care of my body and I took family planning classes.”
Oretha also talked about this in her community of Totoquelleh, expressing that her favorite part of the program was the education about preventing teenage pregnancy because “it helped us to care for ourselves.”
Education is one of the most empowering tools girls in Liberia can have. I know the girls I met feel more empowered, confident and have greater agency of their lives because they have the chance to obtain an education. It means that all the support Girl Up Clubs and Coalitions are doing is creating an impact, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all the girls I met in my Liberia trip.