Girls’ Voices Scholars in Cameroon – Dedication in Action!
By Patricia Cogley – Director, Girls’ Voices
It’s the first week of classes for students around the world — including a dedicated group of Girls’ Voices scholars in Douala, Cameroon. Thanks to donors like you, these ten girls will receive the financial support they need — just in time to register for classes, buy books and travel the many miles to school.
According to Paul Jiogo, leader of Positive Youth Development Cameroon, without financial support the situation for girls in Cameroon can be dire. We met with Paul to learn about the Girls’ Voices program and his organization’s efforts to support girls’ education in Cameroon.
Why did you start the Girls’ Voices program in Cameroon?
When I was a teacher in Cameroon, I got to understand the challenges that young people — especially girls — face. When a girl’s family could no longer afford school costs, she would often drop out. I saw many smart, talented young people drop out simply because they lacked the support to continue. When a girl is no longer in school, she faces much worse challenges – street life, forced marriage and the dangers of trying to leave the country. I thought Girls’ Voices could provide girls much needed support and hope.
Tell us about the girls who are participating in Girls’ Voices.
Ten girls have been meeting in Douala City, since May, to attend the Girls’ Voices workshops. Two come from an orphanage, and one travels four hours each way to the workshop. They are each dealing with different challenges, but each faces a financial obstacle to completing school — either tuition, books or transport. Most of the girls have lost a parent, and their mothers are raising them with limited funds. We selected each girl because of her motivation to learn.
What is the biggest issue facing girls in Cameroon?
Early marriage is a big issue for girls in Cameroon. When a family can’t afford school supplies and tuition, the girls stop attending school. Some parents say, “This is not an issue – because soon you will be married.” When she meets a man, however, it is not because she loves him, it is because there is no other choice. There is no one else to take care of her. If she gets married, then she may face many challenges with the man – because he may not be prepared to support her. Really, it is a forced marriage. The family is putting pressure on them to get married early because the family can’t afford an education.
When girls stay in school though, it is not a problem. The higher the degree girls acquire, the more prepared she is for life, and she eventually can marry the right person when she is ready. Education is a way for them to be protected against early marriage and forced marriage.
Tell us about one of the Girls’ Voices scholars.
Ange comes to mind. She is in seventh grade, and lives at the orphanage. She is so engaged in her education. At the orphanage she teaches others how to read, expresses her thoughts and encourages education in the other children. She has overcome so much – when she was seven years old her parents passed away, and she sold cookies in order to buy books to attend school. Since doing Girls’ Voices she shared that she wants to be a journalist. She shows such motivation to continue her education, and is an inspiration to the other children.
Why is Girls’ Voices important for these girls?
The girls have never done workshops like these before. It was the first time that they had gathered together to express themselves, to talk about their future and to talk about education. They are used to going to traditional schooling where they listen and take notes and just read their notes at home. This was the first time when they could discuss their future, the issues they have been facing and given the chance to express themselves.
At first they were shy, but then they were excited to attend. They never thought they could hold a camera, and conduct an interview about the issues they have been facing. But then they were doing it! When the session was closed, one of our students was so sad, she asked me, “Why is it over? It is so interesting!”
The project has brought them skills they never thought they could have. With social media, they are used to just watching something and looking at it. Now they have skills, they can express themselves and they look at pictures and media in different ways. This contributes to their personal development.
What is your hope for girls in Cameroon?
Girls’ education is one of the ways to make a better society, because when girls are educated, they build up their own life, the lives of their children and the whole country benefits. If we want a good future, if people try to build up an equal society — quality education is the most effective way to fight against the issues that society faces.
We hope that we can bring Girls’ Voices projects to more girls, and hopefully bring the program to girls in the rural areas who need it most. We want more girls to receive the support they need, and have the opportunity to communicate their vision for their future.
The support from GreaterGood.org for these girls is amazing!
Donate to ensure that the Girls’ Voices scholars in Cameroon can continue to pursue their education!