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12. February 2020

The future is female – Empowering girls in Liberia

In the discussion group at the charity Raising Youth Mentorship Initiative, most of the girls are between 10 and 19 years old. At first they are still shy, but it does not take long before they begin to open up, saying what they feel and think. “When I grow up I want to be a doctor.” “Later I want to be an artist.” “When I’m older I also want to work as a social worker.” All of these aspirations can be heard from the girls, and more.

medica mondiale is supporting aid projects worldwide that were initiated by local women. In 2019 medica mondiale first started to fund the activities of Raising Youth Mentorship Initiative (RYMI) from Monrovia in Liberia. RYMI was founded in 2013 by two young Liberian women with the aim of giving young girls the opportunity to live healthy and independent lives.

Girls in Liberia are particularly affected by poverty

Today, Liberia still suffers severely from the devastating effects of the country’s civil war. In the country rankings of the Human Development Index, Liberia is in place 176 out of 187, with the majority of its population living in poverty and one quarter in extreme poverty. As a comparison: Germany is ranked 4th in the HDI, which combines indicators of life expectancy, education and prosperity.

Liberian society is dominated by men, so it is women and girls who suffer especially from the consequences of poverty, including unemployment and the lack of access to education. Combined with certain traditional and cultural practices, poverty in Liberia can also pose a great risk to the health of the girls: for example, Liberia has the third-highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world. Further, one in seven babies dies in its first year of life and complications during delivery after teenage pregnancies contribute to a high rate of maternal mortality in Liberia.

We believe in the strength of the youth

The founders of RYMI no longer wanted to remain inactive, seeing a need to educate and inform girls, and to strengthen their self-esteem and their confidence, empowering them to create a better future for themselves. The origins of RYMI lay in providing topic-based health awareness and education for girls in order to reduce the rates of teenage pregnancies and sexualised abuse. Regular discussion groups allow the girls to talk with experts about issues such as menstruation, drug misuse, AIDS and sexualised violence. “Here I can talk about anything, without people laughing at me,” says one participant in the RYMI project.

The future is female

In the meantime, RYMI has expanded beyond the issues of healthcare and now offers an integrated program. After school there is supplementary tutoring in maths and English. During school holidays, members have the opportunity to take part in special programs. At frequent intervals the girls receive information and education about their rights and have space to think about the values which are important for them, as well as how they want to shape their own future. They are taught art, crafts and painting, and they also learn how to produce soap, picture frames and handbags. In addition to vocationally useful skills, the girls also improve their ‘soft skills’, learning how to give constructive feedback, enhance their own confidence, and tackle difficult issues such as bullying.

Safe spaces to learn and have fun

Of course, it is not all hard work and study. RYMI frequently organises sports and leisure activities such as a football game, a trip to a swimming called, or an afternoon in the cinema. The parents of the girls are grateful that their daughters have this chance, benefitting from a safe space to learn and develop. For some girls from particularly precarious circumstances, RYMI also pays any necessary school fees. RYMI enables girls to find safe spaces to learn and have fun. In this way, the activists are filling an important gap and offering the female generation an opportunity for a better future.

Author: Karolina Plewniak, Social Media Officer at medica mondiale

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