African Girls Respond to COVID

Coverage of COVID-19 first focused on Asia, then Europe, and now increasingly North America. The virus, however, is global, and while there have been relatively few cases reported in Africa, the numbers are increasing, as is awareness about how to combat COVID-19.

Mr. Ablaye Sow; WGEP staffers Khady and Casimir; and Our Sisters Lead participants Absatou, Mouhamed, and Alima. (Photo credit: WGEP)

As is the case everywhere, education and preparedness are essential in blunting the effects of the novel Coronavirus. The Women’s Global Education Project (WGEP), an Oak Park, Illinois-headquartered non-profit, has been helping educate girls in Africa since 2004. It has worked with grassroots leaders in Kenya and Senegal to co-design programs that have impacted thousands of girls and women in poor communities with low levels of school enrollment and literacy. With the new challenge of COVID-19 afoot, Harriet Spears, WGEP Strategic Partnerships and Communications Manager, has shared stories with PW about how WGEP teams in Kenya and Senegal are working with local communities on reducing virus transmission.

In Senegal, three teenaged participants in WGEP’s Our Sisters Lead program found a way to support their community during this uncertain time. When Alima, Absatou and Mouhamed heard of the spread of Coronavirus, they immediately contacted WGEP’s staff about creating a radio segment on a local station to educate the public. With WGEP’s help, they enlisted Mr. Ablaye Sow, Communications Officer at the Sokone District Health Department, to appear with them on the radio. The broadcast took place on March 19, and reached thousands of residents in the rural Fatick region. Many who heard the broadcast lack access to other reliable news platforms.

The Mayor of Sokone heard the broadcast, and sent the leaders extra soap, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies for them to allocate to their communities. Alima, Absatou and Mouhamed then identified eight under-resourced schools in Fatick as targets for the supplies, thereby multiplying the impact of their radio appearance.

Alima, Casimir, and Absatou on the mics. (Photo credit: WGEP)

The Our Sisters Lead program targets emerging leaders among high school girls in Sokone, empowering them to become change agents in their own communities through a series of workshops and hands-on service projects. WGEP notes, “We are proud of Our Sisters Lead participants for using the public speaking, advocacy, and conflict resolution skills that they learned in our program to make change in their communities.” WGEP adds, “This year is the first time that we’ve included a small number of boys in Our Sisters Lead to serve as gender advocates for their sisters and all young women, and we’re happy to see Mouhamed using his new leadership training for good.”

There is equally positive news from Kenya, where WGEP program partners  are educating community members and scholars on World Health Organization (WHO) virus guidelines. WGEP has developed informational materials that are distributed via text and Whatsapp to all program participants. In Kenya, WGEP staff met with adult literacy teachers, who created a verse and video to highlight COVID-19 transmission safety measures. These women will share what they learned with families and neighbors in their home villages.

Kenya Program Director Aniceta Kiriga is also distributing extra soap and supplies to all adult literacy teachers to share with girls and their families. Aniceta also spoke on a local radio program and shared WHO information about hand washing and social distancing.

Aniceta Kiriga, WGEP’s program director, distributing supplies to adult literacy teachers in the Tharaka region of Kenya. (Photo credit: WGEP)

The Women’s Global Education Project’s Founder and Executive Director is Amy Maglio; in addition to its four-person U.S. staff, WGEP’s African teams comprise five people in Kenya and six in Senegal. WGEP employs a holistic model in its work in Africa, emphasizing the following pillars (i) Girls’ Education and Leadership (ii) Literacy (iii) Ending Female Genital Mutilation (iv) Community Engagement (v) Building Partner Capacity. The approach seeks to provide “360°” to elevate the status of women and girls.

WGEP organizational sponsors and partners include a range of non-profits, NGOs, government entities and corporations including the Obama Foundation, the Manaaki Foundation, the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, the Caterpillar Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, Neutrogena, IBM, Global Giving, The Chicago Community Trust, LuminAID and Johnson & Johnson.

Philanthropy Women has previously covered WGEP’s work in Senegal and Kenya on girls’ education, ending female genital mutilation and related subjects in the stories How This Nonprofit is Growing Support to End FGM Globally, How’s the Obama Foundation Doing with Building Global Girls Alliance? and Calling All Movement Makers: This Global Women’s NGO Needs You!

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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