Day of the Girl Child Speech from 14-year-old Efua Ansah

Efua Ansah is the first African, male or female, to make it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals. The 14-year-old competed this year against 285 spellers from the U.S., Japan, Canada, South Korea, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Ansah was also the key-note speaker at the Day of the Girl Child Expo put on by the U.S. Embassy. Her speech was the highlight of the event. She spoke with eloquence as she described her personal experiences and goals for continuing to empower girls in Ghana. Here speech is printed here with her permission. Please take the time to read it and reflect on her words. 

 

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

It is truly a pleasure to be invited to speak at such an auspicious event today. I have an admission to make and it is that girl emboldenment and female inclusion has always been something I have personally felt deeply about and stood for [although not so publicly and rather inwardly]. It is for this reason that I consider it incredibly amazing to be presented with this rare privilege of voicing my stance and joining in this global awareness creation movement. I have decided to theme my message "Why Girl Empowerment Matters."

Yesterday, which marked the 4th annual observance of the international Day of the girl child reflects the laudable extent to which the consciousness is being raised towards this direction. And by the way, UN INTERNATIONAL DAYS have always excited me.

However, the truth of the matter still stands that girls remain vulnerable to a remarkably wide array of challenges such as sexual assault, violation of their basic right to education and health care and being forced out of their volition, into performing barbaric customs, being overburdened with menial workload and street peddling to the extent of discontinuing with their education. To be honest, these aren’t challenges l can say l totally identify or relate with myself. The underlying reason why that is so is because of PRIVILEGE. The barrier that separates the enlightened from the the unempowered is privilege. I am fortunate to have had parents who believed in the essence of having an education and provided me with one. But can the same be said of the myriad other girls deprived of their right to education? Because this is a phenomenon that has come to be more commonly associated with girls from less income homes. And so what empowerment does is that it bridges the gap created by the absence of opportunity.

In fact, the reality of this only dawned on me in fifth grade, after we had been introduced to gender discrimination and human rights as topic. During those lessons (if you are wondering how come I remember them so crystal clear, it’s because they were always so emotional [with people protesting rabidly and crying]), but we would discover into detail the horrors of female-targeted cruelties such as Female Genital Mutilation [FGM], the Trokosi system and early, forced marriages, practices that are so deeply anchored in gender prejudices. What we found even more horrifying was that these weren't just figments from a past era that had eventually faded into oblivion, but that they were still in existence and had not yet been fully eradicated.

The question after the full epiphany of this struck me, became how come boys were never included in these rituals and why girls were always the victims. In my quest to find an answer to this, l recently read something from an article, regarding early marriages that literally grabbed my attention which I would like to share. It was that girls are considered as an additional burden and that poverty was a major deciding factor for early arranged marriages for girls as a family survival strategy.

Interestingly, for a long time this has been the severely distorted perception that girls have no need for an education. But I am glad to declare in all accuracy that this untruth has been countered. It’s clearly evident in the successes our outstanding women, since girls transition to become women. Classic among them are Lucy Quist, CEO of Airtel Ghana, a gender trailblazer in a field dominated by men. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first ever female African and current Liberian president, And finally one of my all- time personal favourite writers, Ama Ata Aidoo. These women send across a key message through their achievementand debunk the misconception surrounding girls’ ability to excel when given the chance to.

And so, the realization is sinking in, without any doubt, that girls can belong to any field to make extraordinary accomplishment and academic strides outside of traditional gender assigned roles like housekeeping. Global figures tell me that since 2012 literacy rate of female youth stand at 87%.

The positive thing about it is that the change we envision is in steady progress. But honestly, is it enough? Will a more intense approach be required to effect the change of a 100% realization.

Firstly, this will require an active participation by us all in the campaign against girl injustices. We should aim to tackle the situation by its roots through counseling of parents on the value of enrolling their girl children in schools and their role in ensuring they remain focussed on their academic objectives by not overburdening them with duties.

Moreover, there is the need for more social empowerment clubs for girls, keeping in mind they are made accessible to girls who urgently need them. I remember my days in primary school as a member of the Ananse Guide. Our motto was Empowerment of the Girl Child. The reason my membership left such a profound personal impact was because it allowed me to network with other girls and boosted my self image significantly. It is imperative that the voiceless were aided to acquire and find their own unique voices to freely and creatively express themselves.

In addition, formal education at all levels-that is basic, secondary and tertiary- should be made more easily accessible to girls living in remote and rural areas (dominated by gender stereotypes). The countless instances of girls dropping out at certain cycles in their education (regardless of whatever reason) should cease. There should be the global agenda to narrow gender gaps in school attendance by ensuring all girls have full access to their basic right to education. Let us not forget the wise words of Kwegyir Aggrey that to educate a girl is to educate a nation. Lastly, there should be a more rigid enforcement of the law. It is high time that girls were rescued form the indignities they encounter and that such indignities were completely abolished by making more help hotlines available and creating safe havens to provide the needed assistance to all girl victims of all forms of human right infringement.

I am hopeful of a change. I want to believe we are all hopeful of a change. But hoping should come with a sense of responsibility and should extend beyond passively envisioning the change we desire to actively ensuring we act on our strategies in achieving that change, shouldn’t it?

Thank you so much."

 

The Great Kwame Nkrumah Memorial School

The Great Kwame Nkrumah Memorial School is located in Chorkor, a seaside community where 90% of the adults work as fishermen or fish mongers. According to junior high teacher Stephen Opoku, it is a tough area to grow up in. Many of the families are very poor and sometimes the parents even encourage sugar-daddy relationships as a means to help ease the burden of poverty on their family. "Sometimes the parents don't have time for their kids. They are out working long hours and don't come home until late at night, leaving the kids alone to make their own decisions," he said. "In Africa, children often spend more time with teachers than with parents, so we have a huge responsibility here."

Last week we delivered our Power2Girls curriculum to the school. Check out the photos below:

Guest Blogger: YES- Ghana

Today's guest blog is from YES (Youth Empowerment Synergy) Ghana, an NGO that we met when we first arrived in Ghana. YES-Ghana is a highly esteemed organization that shares our passion for empowering youth. As we started our program here, they provided us with lessons learned from their experiences working with youth in Ghana. They also helped connect us to some of our amazing Change Agents. We would not have the program we have today without them. They are truly an organization we aspire to be like. 

We are thrilled that they agreed to be a guest blogger asked them to write write about why they think is so important to empower girls in Ghana. Check it out: 

Our meeting with YES-Ghana. Left to Right, James Anquandah, Sophie Danner, Emily Rasinski, Emmanuel Edudzie, Sheena Lahren, and Emmanuel Nomafo.

Our meeting with YES-Ghana. Left to Right, James Anquandah, Sophie Danner, Emily Rasinski, Emmanuel Edudzie, Sheena Lahren, and Emmanuel Nomafo.

EMPOWERING GIRLS FOR A DEVELOPED GHANA – THE YES-GHANA APPROACH

by James Anquandah, Communications and Mobilization Manager YES-Ghana 

 

A group picture of YES-Ghana’s Young Researchers  

A group picture of YES-Ghana’s Young Researchers

 

Ghana has had its fair share of celebrated women who have beaten the odds and left their indelible marks in their chosen paths. Indeed, their impacts have been so great that, in some instances, several years after leaving the public stage, when their applause was loudest, their names have metamorphosed into adjectives that are forever linked with their former institutions. Examples include Mrs. Gifty Afenyi Dadzie’s Ghana Journalist Association, and Dr. Joyce Aryee’s Ghana Chamber of Mines.

Other trailblazers include Professors Ama Ata Aidoo, Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, Esi Sutherland Addy, Justice Bamford Addo, Mrs. Georgina Theodora Woode, Mrs. Charlotte Osei, Madam Lucy Quist. Even the Ghanaian flag we salute was designed by Madam Theodosia Okoh. Countless numbers of women have played integral roles in every sector of the Ghanaian economy, helping to propel Ghana up the development ladder.

However, despite these achievements, thousands of young girls in Ghana still face many obstacles. Poverty, an over emphasized patriarch system, and other factors contribute directly or indirectly to preventing them from realizing their full potential.  Worse, these unlucky girls find themselves in the unending cycle that compromises generations, making them vulnerable to become school dropouts, ending up homeless, and in some cases, forced into prostitution or taken advantage of by unscrupulous well-to-do men.

This is why it is imperative that we empower girls at all levels to strive to go beyond their perceived potential. Empowerment, in this case, simply refers to the conscious effort to make girls realize their full potential, to believe in themselves, and to provide the provision of a level playing field for both girls and boys to succeed. For example, at home empowerment simple means parents giving both their sons and daughters the chance to advance in education rather than seeing their sons through school while daughters are left behind to learn housekeeping skills.

Several interventions have been instituted over time to empower girls nationwide. Numerous Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) programmes designed solely for girls have brought girls closer to science and math.

In the development sector, several girl empowerment initiatives and steps have been in practice for some time. Youth Empowerment Synergy (YES-Ghana), the nation’s foremost and most extensive youth-focused organisation, has over the years empowered girls through the implementation of several youth-focused initiatives. At YES-Ghana, projects are seen as avenues to provide equal opportunities for both young men and women to learn and acquire life-long skills to improve their employability, social and life skills, and overall, make them more active and responsible partakers of the national governance process.   

A Young Peace Ambassador administering the peace pledge to a group of young people

A Young Peace Ambassador administering the peace pledge to a group of young people

The Young Peace Ambassadors’ Programme is an example of how girls can be empowered to be active players in the peace building process. The programme recruited 28 young people, 14 boys and 14 girls, from the Northern and Upper East regions of Ghana from a pool of over 300 applicants. The final 28 participated in a week-long peace camp where discussions centred on peace building, conflict resolution, social and life skills, project implementation, monitoring and evaluation, action planning, development of impactful messages, and effective use of social media.     

Emphasis was placed on involving at least an equal number of girls to act as peace brokers in  creating a peaceful atmosphere in the two regions before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the December, 2016 polls. This was needed as gender disparity is quite common in the two selected regions and in most cases, girls, women, and children are disproportionately affected when violence and conflict erupts, despite the face that they play almost no roles in starting such situations.    

After completing the Peace Camp, our empowered girl Peace Ambassadors visit communities, places of worship, media houses and people of all age groups to preach the message of peace to ensure the Northern and Upper East regions are violence-free this year.

  

The Voices of Youth’s People’s National Youth Policy project is yet another way YES-Ghana has empowered young women to become active partakers of the governing process. The project involves capacity building in action research, data collection, analysis and presentation on topical issues pertaining to youth development. The first workshop in May 2016 saw some 10 young women trained as action researchers. This number rose to 12 during the second workshop in July 2016. At the second workshop, participants analyzed and presented data collected from their respective community-based action research activities, reviewed the current National Youth Policy of Ghana as well as that of other countries. The identified best practices are going to be integrated into the final document, the People’s National Youth Policy, which is expected to be representative of the views of young people for consideration into any National Youth Policy.

In all, despite conscious efforts to bring parity to everyone regardless of gender, there still exists a need to empower girls in all facets of our national development. The numerous achievements of some distinguished women proves that girls are more than capable of reaching the pinnacle. Removing stereotypes, both mentally and physically, providing equal opportunities to both girls and boys, as well as an enabling environment for girls is the starting point for success that will eventually lead to a brighter future for Ghana.

Photos from Berekuso

Over the past couple of weeks we have visited Berekuso primary school and Berekuso junior high school to deliver our curriculum. Berekuso is a small community about two hours outside of Accra where the majority of adults work in agriculture. The school's modest classrooms are arranged in two long parallel rows separated by a grassy field in the middle. Headmistress Margaret explained to us that teen pregnancy is a big problem in this community and last year alone five girls (one fifth grader, one sixth grader, and three junior high students) dropped out of school after becoming pregnant.  

We have so many great photos from these schools that we decided to share them in one giant post. We hope you enjoy them and get a better idea of what our program looks like on the ground. 

Above: Eva teaches her first Power2Girls class to the Berekuso fourth graders. 

Above: Adam and Eva work with the Berekuso fifth and sixth graders. 

Above: Joyce filled in for Eva to teach Berekuso's junior high students along with Adam. 

We've been invited to the Day of the Girl Child Expo at the U.S. Embassy!

We are pumped to announce that next Wednesday, October 12, we will be participating in the Day of the Girl Child Expo hosted by USAID Ghana at theUS Embassy Ghana . It is an honor to be included in the event which will also feature organizations like CamfedGirls Education Initiative of Ghana,Levers in HeelsTECHAiDE, World Education, and threesixtyGh. We look forward to sharing our story with these organizations as well as learning from them. 

Delivering to our First Communities

Our team: Joyce, Eva, Adam, and Sam

Our team: Joyce, Eva, Adam, and Sam

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement, overcoming challenges, and long hours of work. Between meeting with communities and working with our staff to adapt our curriculum and develop our monitoring and evaluation plan, we have fallen behind on keeping you all updated on what we are doing.

Since our last posting, we hired an amazing staff: Eva, Adam, Joyce, and Sam (you can read more about them on our “Meet our Staff” blogs).  They have been working diligently with us to take the UNICEF developed sugar-daddy awareness program and localize it for Ghanaian youth. This means making big decisions like determining how to approach the topics of sex and condom use with elementary and junior high students, as well as small decisions like figuring out that it is more appropriate to use the word “age-mate” when referring to a classmate or peer.

Our team in Ghana skypes with Melissa in Seattle. 

Our team in Ghana skypes with Melissa in Seattle. 

The communities we will be working in: Senya Beraku, Chorkor, and Berekuso.

The communities we will be working in: Senya Beraku, Chorkor, and Berekuso.

Last week we finalized the list of  schools that we will be working in. Over the next month, we will be visiting 7 schools in 3 communities to deliver our curriculum to more than 1000 students. We chose these schools and communities for two reasons:

  1.  We have established local partners who work in these areas. These partners have been vital to us and, as a new NGO with limited time and funding, we could not have done it without them. They have helped introduce us to the head mistresses, assemblymen, school district directors, and, in the case of Berekuso, the Chief.
  2. There is a need. We recently received updated data from Ghana Health Service stating that older men in Ghana are 9X more likely than younger men to be infected with HIV. In addition, because of the power imbalance between a young girl and an older man, the girl is unlikely to be able to negotiate to use a condom with her partner, leading to higher risk of HIV and pregnancy. In a focus group we conducted at Berekuso, 4 of the 7 junior high school girls we spoke with knew age-mates who were dating older men, whose ages ranged from 24 to 48. This is the reason we are here.

The need to a provide sugar-daddy awareness program was confirmed for us last week when we had our first PTA meetings at Berekuso primary and junior high schools and Fidelity Juvenile School. While many parents agreed that sugar-daddies, HIV, and teen pregnancy is a problem in their communities, most said they did not talk with their kids about it. We hope that by providing our curriculum to the parents and teachers as well as the students, we can change that. 

Guest Blogger: Grace Amponsah of A New Dawn

Today we welcome Grace Amponsah, of A New Dawn, as our Guest Blogger. Grace, a graduate of Ashesi University, is also a member of Board of Directors. In 2014, she founded A New Dawn, a nonprofit whose goal is to nurture underprivileged teenage girls to build them into problem-solvers and agents of change in their communities.

"As a little girl living with my parents and siblings, life seemed great. I had food and toffee and was happy. However, in high school I realized that my parents were having difficulties providing for my basic needs. They were low-income earners and one of my siblings had special needs. As such, my sister and I often had to save our own money for food and clothing which we sometimes paid in bits. When I got kicked out of school because we could not afford to pay the school fees, my father borrowed money to settle the debt so I could return to class. Additionally, there were times when we only ate once or twice a day. We still sometimes do this, mainly to help us cater to our other pressing needs. The challenges I faced were numerous, but through them I developed the desire and hope to one day give my family a comfortable life.

My Christian faith was my source of energy in sailing through these situations. For instance, some of the Bible verses I always said to myself were “ I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse trials and temptations knowing that that the trying of your faith worketh patience but let patience have its perfect work.”

Even though my parents did not go far in their own education, they were champions of excellence and encouraged me to aim higher in school and not settle for less. They always celebrated my accomplishments in school, which boosted my confidence. In addition I had mentors and friends who supported through advice, visits in school, food, clothing etc.

I successfully got into Ashesi University College on a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship and in my sophomore year I started selling airtime and snacks to provide for my personal needs. While in school, I founded the non-profit A New Dawn mainly because I believe there are thousands of girls out there like me who need support and mentorship to rise up with the grace and work hard in school despite their difficult challenges.

One of the many problems that young girls may face are numerous young and old men around who are doing everything possible to get us into intimate relationships in exchange for gifts and to catering to our needs.  I personally had a fair share of these advances made at me several times.  Luckily, I was abIe to boldly stop them. It takes strong values and mentorship to fight off all these temptations and challenges while still concentrating on school. Ultimately our focus is to build girls to be resilient and entrepreneurial so they can come up with innovative ideas to take care of themselves so they can realize their dreams.


Life does not stop throwing stones at us; however, we can learn to run for help and protection.  We hope that this initiative that we have started will touch and impact young girls in Ghana and beyond in the years to come."

Meet our Team (Part 4)

Name:  Adam Fushein

P2G Position: Change Agent Educator

Hometown: Saboba

“By empowering girls, we are making a very big investment in our country. One of our Ghanaian politicians, James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey, actually said. ‘If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.’

The main reason I applied to Power2Girls was to deliver the skills and experiences I have developed over the years working with other people who have been interested in developing the girl child. When you look at a Ghanaian environment, you can see that women and girls are vulnerable. Because of their vulnerability, they can more easily be sidelined when it comes to certain issues. Empowering a girl is giving her hope and that is the best thing you can give to her.

With the sugar-daddy issue, it is not actually a problem of a single nation, it is a global issue. It is taking a heavy toll on our girls in Ghana and making it harder for them to climb higher on the education ladder and impoverishing their families. We need to start speaking up about it and advocating for a change.”

Meet our Team (Part 3)

Name: Samuel Gordor

P2G Position: Program Coordinator

Hometown: Dzodze

“I believe in empowerment, especially the empowerment of women and children. I believe that in Africa, Ghana especially, many people in these groups are vulnerable to abuse and can be left behind. This is especially true for those from the villages and remote areas.

Sexual education and the sugar-daddy issue are important because most Ghanaian parents hardly talk about them with their kids. You realize that as these kids grow up, they know nothing about these issues. This can make them more vulnerable to people who approach them with gifts in exchange for sex. I believe that if we can educate them on the consequences, maybe we will be able to help reduce the rate of early pregnancies.

The first thing that happens when a girls gets pregnant is she drops out of school. Life becomes very difficult. Most of these girls’ parents don’t have enough to support them and when they get pregnant it brings an additional burden to their family. It can worsen the living standard of the whole family.

I chose development studies for my master’s degree because I want to contribute to policy research and implementation. It is in line with my passion to alleviate poverty in our society and also contribute to the empowerment of the vulnerable in our society.”

Meet our Team (Part 2)

Name: Joyce Stoff 

P2G Position: Program Coordinator

Hometown: Takoradi

“Back in University I worked as an HIV AIDS activists. I was a financial secretary for FaceAids, a university group that I helped form. Basically, we organized workshops and programs on campus and talked about HIV AIDS awareness. We joined the Ghana Aids Commission to do a larger program for World AIDS Day. We went to hospitals that had HIV AIDS departments.

During that time, I met a lot of young girls who had the virus and were also pregnant. I wished we could have done more for them. If someone had been there for them and helped educate them, I wonder how would their story have been different.

Empowering girls is very important because it can help a girl achieve her dreams. For instance, I wanted to be a doctor, a gynecologist, because a lot of women feel shy seeing a male gynecologist. But I was told that girls don’t become doctors, you can only become a nurse. I was told I wasn’t good enough and that really affects your self-esteem. If we help girls to overcome those things, I think we can help them to achieve whatever they want.”

Meet our Team (Part 1)

Name: Eva Abugabe

P2G Position: Change Agent Educator

Hometown: Navrongo

"I applied to power to girls because I fell in love with the concept of empowering girls and I was willing to do anything to help achieve this goal.

There are so many things that I am interested in, but if there is one thing that I want to be remembered for at the end of my life it is that I am a woman who did not sit idle. I want to be remembered as a woman who stood up and spoke up for women and the marginalized in society. I want to be remembered as a woman whose brand was helping to enable women and girls to change the world. If I don’t stand up for others, then I’m shooting myself in the foot because the issues that affect another woman also affect me.

Poverty has the biggest effect on women and girls, particularly young girls because they are the most vulnerable. If you are living in very poor conditions, then you have little resources to achieve your goals or to even recognize or realize your potential. So you might be more tempted to accept gifts from anybody who can provide you help, regardless of the consequences. Sometimes it doesn’t come with demands, but with sugar-daddies it does.

Growing up, I have always had people tie my potential and my abilities to my height (Eva is 5’1”). People think that greater things are done by people who are tall or greater in size and that smaller things are done by smaller people. But I am breaking that trend and I am breaking that perception." 

Hitting the Ground Running

The Team with Grace Amponsah of A New Dawn.    

The Team with Grace Amponsah of A New Dawn.    

The Ghana team is now complete with Emily’s arrival on Tuesday night. We hit the ground running on Wednesday morning with a meeting with Grace Amponsah, founder of the Ghanaian NGO A New Dawn and graduate of Ashesi University. Grace is the newest member of our board of directors and we will be partnering with A New Dawn to help us mobilize communities in the Berekuso area.   

Check back here for more on Grace and A New Dawn. She has agreed to be a guest blogger for us later this month.  For now, check her out on facebook.

Applications for our two change agent positions have been rolling in and we began the interview process this week. It’s been exciting to meet with many young Ghanaians who are equally passionate about empowering girls. They are all very talented and accomplished in their own right and it is going to be a tough decision. 

Akwaaba!

Akwaaba! ("Welcome" in Twi, a local language in Accra.) Sophie and Sheena have arrived in Ghana and are getting ready to settle into their new home away from home. These first few weeks have been exciting for them to build closer relationships with some of of our local partners, who will be helping us connect with communities before piloting our Sugar Daddy Awareness Program. Notably, Ms. Lila Djaba, founder of Lila's Childcare Foundation, has been a great resource for us. She also serves on our board of directors, and you can read more about her here!

13901511_911602972283803_8452082764842058371_n.jpg

While the Ghana Team is getting things rolling in Accra, our team in Seattle has been hard at work with fundraising. Peddler Brewing in Ballard helped us to host a successful event this week. Thanks to everyone who came out to support us! And also a big thank you to Bri Navarro who designed our logo, shirts, stickers, business cards, etc. Check out her portfolio