Divine, 12, lives in a rural community in Eastern Rwanda, where violence, teenage pregnancy and sugar daddies are rife. Many of her friends have dropped out of school. However, since the Girl Guides arrived in her community more and more girls are learning about their rights and teaching others why education matters, with the support of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts…
Photographs by Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS
“In my community, girls drop out of school for a variety of reasons,” says Divine, 12. “Families are poor and can’t afford school materials. Some children have lost their parents to HIV, so they have to go and live with other people who make them work so hard, they drop out of school. School is so important - it’s sad when children have to miss out.”
When children are able to go to school, issues such as sexual health and reproductive rights aren’t covered on the curriculum in Rwanda, leaving girls at risk of teenage pregnancy and violence.
The Association des Guides du Rwanda runs 12+ Programme, which educates girls about sexual health and reproductive rights. “At school, sessions on sexual health aren’t in depth enough and we don’t learn about things such as how to tackle violence or sugar daddies. We can’t openly talk about these issues as boys are around, but Girl Guiding has given me a safe space to address them.”
“Through open discussions, our Girl Guide mentors have taught me what to do if I feel am at risk of violence. I am not afraid to speak out and ask questions – and neither are the rest of the girls,” says Divine. “Now I know who I can go to for help and I’ve learnt that I don’t have to keep quiet. I’ve also learnt about what happens to me when I reach puberty and how I can take care of myself."
In Rwanda, Girl Guiding is supporting girls of all ages, no matter where they are from. Projects are run in safe spaces, giving girls from the most marginalised background the opportunity to take part.
“The good thing about Guiding is that I can meet other girls from my community and we can become friends, then after we can share our ideas,” says Divine.
Illdephonse, 33, is the local leader of the community and has witnessed the change amongst girls here. “Before Guiding started, girls frequently dropped out of school. Parents felt girls should stay at home, do the housework and raise their brothers and sisters, while boys got an education. Since the Girl Guides started gathering, they’ve learnt about their rights and the importance of education. When they go home, they tell their parents why they deserve to go to school. Now, many girls have returned to school. I am happy the Girl Guides are working in this community and I hope they will continue.”
As well as learning about sexual health and reproductive rights, Divine has been taught about financial literacy and the budding entrepreneur has set up her own business. “I have learnt how to save my pocket money, which I’ve really enjoyed. When I save enough money, I buy a rabbit or a hen. I buy small rabbits for a low price, raise them and, when they grow up, I take them back to the market and sell them for more money.”
“With the money I make, I can buy school materials, or support my family. I even saved enough money to buy my parents a sofa. I wouldn’t be the same without Girl Guiding. With this group, I’ve learnt so many things. My parents are happy to see how Girl Guiding has had such a positive impact on me. When my friends come to my house, they are inspired and want to do the same.”
Divine’s mum is pleased to see the positive impact Guiding is having her daughter.
“Guiding has taught her lots of new skills, such as sewing, how to make handicrafts, as well as how to save money. Before Divine became a Girl Guide, she would rarely raise a smile. She had no interest in studying or going to school. Now she smiles and talks and achieves top marks in class. As a mother, it’s been amazing to see the change. Divine wants to become a Girl Guide leader and I have no doubt it will happen. I am so proud of her. She sees how smart her mentors are and she wants to be just like them.”
Divine’s Dad is also proud of his daughter. “Since becoming a Girl Guide, Divine has become responsible and takes initiative. She wants to make the house beautiful and she will put up posters to brighten it. She is a smart, beautiful, intelligent girl and I am very proud of her.”
For Divine, she’s happy she’s able to go to school – and afford her school materials. “To me, education means a notebook. Whenever I see a notebook, I always think I have to go to school! Going to school makes me very happy. I now know that when I finish my studies, I will be able to secure a good job.”
International Day of the Girl, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl
Scouts is calling for 12
years of free, safe, quality education for every girl and any girl around the
About World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) is the world’s only movement for every girl and any girl because we believe that each of them deserves to be the best they can be. The diverse Movement represents ten million girls and young women from 150 countries. Free to make what they want from the Movement, girls learn by doing, making friends and having fun. In safe, local spaces, girls develop the skills and attitudes to change themselves, their communities and our world. WAGGGS keeps the global Movement thriving, united and growing. www.wagggs.org