In celebration of the 31st edition of the International women’s day commemorated under the theme ‘Pledge for Parity’, Girls Excel organized a one day sensitization event that brought together 45 girls from two schools in Limbe, South West region of Cameroon. The girls who were from the Cameroon Baptist Main and Classical schools were between the ages of 8 and 11 years and in primary four, five and six.
Prior to the event, Girls Excel had contacted the schools and worked in close collaboration with the school administration to organize the event, mobilize the pupils and prepare the grounds for the upcoming event. The event took place on the 16th of March 2016 at the Cameroon Baptist Classical Primary School New Town Limbe. It was opened with an introduction from Miss Arrah Takang Blessing Ofundem, Secretary General of Girls Excel, who greeted the girls and explained the objectives of Girls Excel and why our team is interested in talking with them and getting to know them better. According to her, it is because ‘As girls, we are special and so are our needs. It is important that we take time to understand what these needs are and how they can be provided but most importantly, Girls Excel is here to listen to what you all have to say because you are all important’. To break the silence and forge a bond with the girls, she invited them to teach the Girls Excel team a song which was boldly done by one of the girls.
The first discussion was entitled ‘The importance of educating the girl child’ and it was presented by Miss Mamuwa Ruth Meoto, Girls Excel project Officer which centered around education, its importance to girls, society and using examples of women ruling the world thanks to the power of education such as President Helen Sirleaf and Angela Merkel. Miss Meoto fondly called ‘Aunty Ruth’ by the girls led an engaging discussion on girl child education encouraging the girls to talk about some of the challenges that they face trying to access quality education. Some of these challenges include poverty, cultural discrimination against girls, low self esteem, little or no knowledge about menstruation and its impact on girl’s education and child marriage. This presentation triggered different emotions amongst the girls but it also produced interesting questions from the girls who were eager to know why parents give out children into marriage. The team explained some of the realities in the Cameroon such as cultural beliefs that regards girls as home makers and therefore prohibited to get education. We also discussed examples of ‘Money Women’ situation in Akwaya sub division in the South West region of Cameroon where children are married when they are still in their mother’s womb in order to pay off some long term family debt. In the months ahead, our team will love to meet some of the victims of this horrible practice and work with them.
The second presentation came from Miss Delphine Konda, Managing Director of Girls Excel. Her presentation focused on improving the self-esteem of girls through education and access to personal hygiene especially for the young girls who had already started experiencing their periods. It was quite an uncomfortable topic for the girls at the beginning of the conversation as they would often fidget and smile shyly. However, at the end of the presentation, they were made to understand that it is a natural process, in fact that it is a ‘special gift from nature’, a human right that should be handled with dignity, pride and they need not be scared, shy or skip school during their period. They were advised to always talk to their mothers, older sisters, aunts or female teachers about their experiences and seek their support. Girls Excel also talked about the partnership with leading women’s right organization W4 in raising funds to provide access to sanitary towels for girls who cannot afford it.
By the end of the discussion, the girls had many questions regarding menstruation, education, self worth and how to always keep their heads up high. The event ended with the girls receiving pieces of papers with the different lessons learned and a group picture. The Girls Excel team feels deeply grateful to the management of the two schools for their readiness to support not just our programs but also help us in transforming the minds of these young ones and giving them a platform to voice their opinions on issues affecting them.