(Continued from part 2)
The next day the 30 HER CHOICE coordinators are divided into 3 groups and welcomed in 3 different villages (kebele) in the Omoro and Sidama regions to visit communities who have worked on the HER CHOICE programme for the past 2 years.
They hear first hand from the inhabitants of the villages what it means for them to eradicate child-marriage and female harmful practices in their communities, and how – thanks to the HER CHOICE programme and community committment – over 500 children and 200 teachers were trained on sexual and reproductive health, separate toilets for girls were built in many local schools, girls were trained to make their own sanitary pads, and many women were enabled to start their own income-generating activities.
They are particularly impressed by:
- local female community elders (siinquee – picture on the left – and qericho – picture on the right) strongly condemning the negative effects of child marriage and female genital mutilation in their communities, and telling about how local women stepped up and joined forces to address these issues. They succesfully solved, for instance, cases of girl abduction and child marriage by working together.
- amazing drama shows made by teen girls and boys, representing cases of attempted genital mutilation, abduction of girls, arranged child marriages as well as the different ways to report and stop such cases with the collaboration of social workers, HER CHOICE local coordinators, village elders, police, etc. Many of these girls and boys have impressive acting skills!
- village elders advocating for the importance of educating young people in their communities. They explain how child marriage used to rob them (girls especially) of their education and their dreams of becoming doctors, teachers, engineers, etc., and how – thanks to these 2 years of HER CHOICE programme – many more girls finish school and female genital mutilation practices have completely stopped in their villages.
- the district representative in charge of the Education and Family Welfare portfolio speaking about her personal story, and her compelling call to strengthen girls’ position in the communities: “if we harm our girls, we harm our communities, we harm ourselves!”
- the success of the girls’ clubs: safe spaces where girls meet, play together, help each other, take care of their sexual health by, for instance, making reusable sanitary pads from pieces of clothes (picture here on the left).
- women members of self-help groups (single mums, widows, very poor women, etc) telling their stories of solidarity, how they discuss personal issues and help each other, how several of them got out of poverty by starting own income-generating activities (making handcrafts, running small businesses, rearing goats and sheeps, etc.) thanks to the common funds and savings of the women groups.
- girls speaking courageously about their personal stories of arranged child marriage, and how thanks to their own strength, the awareness raised by HER CHOICE, and the support of others in the community (elders, teachers, social workers, etc.) their parents could in the end accept their refusal to marry so young. They could happily continue with going to school and living their childhood normally.
At the end of the day the HER CHOICE coordinators are very moved by the fantastic hospitality received in those villages, and they are impressed by witnessing in this way the impact of the HER CHOICE programme on the lives of so many people.
After such a fulfilling day, and after eating some amazing local food ( Batchira- made of corn flour, milk and butter – offered in beautiful black containers, here on the left) they leave. They drive back to their rooms through spectacular Ethiopian landscapes, towards an evening of pleasant self-reflection on the many impressions and deep impact that this day has had on each and every one of them.
It continues here…