Entire Village Gathers to Inaugurate Teen Girls Clubs

Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Oakland inaugurates Teen Girls Club on behalf of Self-Help Board of Directors, September 23, 2016

September 23, 2016 was a truly special day. After months of organizing girls, listening to their needs and challenges, and designing a program to help them overcome those challenges, three Teen Girls Clubs were officially inaugurated in the village of Bedaabour at a celebration that won’t soon be forgotten.

One hundred fifty young women from the villages of Timeabu, Bedaabour, and Beposo villages gathered together in their bright orange Teen Girls Club shirts to celebrate the launch of this new program. Many of their mothers and even some fathers came to help out and witness the inauguration. The Bedaabour village chief, imam, and and elders – all men – were right there in the front row. School let out early for the afternoon so the teachers and younger students could attend and show their support. Hundreds of people gathered around, the message: our girls matter. Their education matters. Their future matters.

That morning, before the program began, we held an abbreviated “make up” women’s health training session for those who missed the first session and distributed feminine hygiene kits to girls so their periods won’t prevent them from attending school on regular basis.

A group photo after the make-up session on women’s health

While the goal of the Teen Girls Club is to keep girls in school, the trainings and activities cover many thematic areas, including water and sanitation, health, art and culture, and sports & recreation. As part of the art and culture / sports and recreation programs, the girls learned several traditional cultural dances from their mothers, which they performed to open the day’s program.

The gathering began with a prayer, as is custom, offered by Sheikh Agyei, the local imam and a local opinion leader who has worked closely with Self-Help on bringing the school feeding program to the village. He gave thanks that together, man or woman, black or white, Ghanaian or American, we are all working together to improve quality of life for this community.

Sheikh Agyei offers a thanksgiving prayer

The village chief and I each shared opening remarks encouraging the girls to work hard at their school work, honor their parents’ sacrifice by staying focused on their education, and calling on parents to support their daughters. Then the top three students in each village who earned the best grades in their classes during the previous term were given gifts of school supplies by the village chief! This public recognition of the top students – all girls in the teens club – by the leader in their community in front of their peers, teachers, parents and siblings sent a clear message to all present that educating girls matters. Investing in girls matters. The girls were thrilled.

Village chief rewards girls who earn top grades

Next, several mothers testified that their daughters’ behavior has improved since joining the club and they are more responsible, and the chief rewarded them with school supplies as well. There had been some in the community (mostly fathers) who were resistant to the idea of their daughters joining the teens club, so the speeches the mothers gave demonstrated to those who might still be weary of such a club that it is in fact good for the whole family if the girls join the club because they’re more respectful at home and help out more with the chores around the house with fewer complaints now.

A mother testifies about the improvements in her daughters’ behavior since joining Teens Club

Through the arts and culture program, the girls had learned how to make several handicrafts such as beaded jewelry, knitted clothing and potholders and decorative bowls which they proudly displayed on a table nearby. These are all crafts that the girls can do as they have time and sell so they have their own spending money rather than taking a boyfriend to give them money. The girls made the initial crafts at a club organizing meeting as an example of what the club could become, and our volunteer delegation bought up much of the supply.

Handicrafts made by girls in the teens clubs

Then there was a skit. That the girls wrote and acted out about the challenges they face and the choices they make. It was a skit that angered and saddened and motivated us all to do more. That skit deserves its own story – I’ll write about that separately.

Finally, Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Oakland, a member of the Self-Help International Board of Directors inaugurated the teens club, and then we all danced together some more. There was such joy in the village that day. I wish you could have been there to see it yourself. Special thanks to our photographers, Jim and Bernie, who captured the day so beautifully.

This inauguration was the culmination of many months of hard work and planning by Victoria and Elizabeth along with all of our Ghana team, but it’s truly only the beginning. With sufficient funding, we will continue to offer additional trainings to the girls in small income-generating activities so they don’t have to depend on boyfriends for spending money, and perhaps even take them on college visits so they can be exposed to life outside of their rural villages, and the possibilities that their future could hold if they stay in school. Together, we can give a future to these young girls. Please join us.