THE PROJECT "GIRLS AHEAD!" STARTED IN JUNE 2020. WITH THIS PROJECT, THE SWISS ACADEMY FOR DEVELOPMENT (SA4D), TOGETHER WITH THE WARUKA TRUST ACADEMY (WTA), IS WORKING TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE AND SELF-DETERMINED FUTURE FOR YOUNG WOMEN AND THEIR FAMILIES IN THE MUREHWA DISTRICT IN NORTHEASTERN ZIMBABWE. AS IN ALL OUR PROJECTS, SPORT AND PLAY ACTIVITIES HAVE A CENTRAL ROLE.

Zimbabwe – once known as Africa’s breadbasket – is now one of the poorest countries in the world. Repeated periods of drought and the escalation of the economic and political crisis have led to acute food insecurity in the country. The majority of children and young people find themselves in a situation of poverty and lack prospects. They face high unemployment, increasingly inadequate and underfunded education and a weakened (agricultural) economic sector. In rural areas, the situation is even worse due to socio-cultural factors and traditions, especially for girls. The later are at particular risk of losing their prospects for a self-determined life. The regions around Harare have the youngest average age at marriage. One in three girls is married of as a child. The main causes of early marriage for girls include poverty and inadequate education. Being married so young often has serious physical and psychological consequences for the girls. The country’s HIV prevalence, the fifth highest in the world, also presents a major threat. The Murehwa project district in the east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has one of the highest HIV transmission rates in the country.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, the project has become even more relevant as the girls became more vulnerable.

A holistic approach: health, education and generating an income

Child marriage, education and poverty are highly interdependent. This is why this project adopts a holistic approach, involving a wide range of actors. On the one hand, at least 600 disadvantaged girls are empowered to improve their psychosocial well-being, their life skills and the assertion of their rights through regular sport and play-based activities. Teacher training and awareness-raising activities on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) foster the girls inclusion in school and society. On the other hand, training in ecological agroforestry and the establishment of a pilot agricultural area – in close cooperation with an experienced practitioner – contribute to food security and a sustainable income for the girls and their families. With these concrete alternatives, the underlying causes of economically forced child marriage are addressed.

Project visit in spring 2022

The project manager visited the project in May 2022. On site, she was welcomed by a motivated team, visited the surrounding partner schools, spoke with girls, teachers and village leaders; and witnessed how fallow land had become an agroforestry area. Finally, she participated in various activities organised by the Waruka Trust Academy. To celebrate “African Day”, she was invited to join with more than 100 girls of the Waruka network in one of the project villages to participate in sport and play activities. Besides monitoring the progress of the project, the project manager delivered trainings on the Sport & Play approach, as these are a central part of almost every SA4D project trip. These sessions included theoretical basics and practical examples on building life skills for SRHR, psychosocial health and basic entrepreneurial skills.

How exactly are Sport & Play used in the “Girls Ahead!” project?

For a concrete example of how Sport & Play are used in the “Girls Ahead!” project, let’s have a look into the “Knowing my Rights” game introduced during this year’s SRHR training. The goal of this simple game is for the girls to learn about their rights and be aware of the means and strategies to effectively enforce those rights in practice.

The game is led by local trainers who have previously been trained by SA4D. Several girls are selected to play the role of “discriminators” and “rights-deniers”; they position themselves on one side of the playing field. The other girls go to the opposite side and play as themselves, i.e. girls with rights. The latter are holding on to their rights, symbolized by their hands folded into each other. Their goal is to reach the other side of the playing field while holding on to their rights. The goal of the “discriminators” group, on the other hand, is to stop them and to “capture” the locked hands of the girls with their own hands, that is, to clap their own hands around the interlocked hands, thus symbolically taking away the girls’ rights. After each round, the roles are exchanged.

In the game “Knowing my Rights”, the girls hold their rights in their folded hands. Others try to take them away.

In the game originally, the rights are symbolized by balls that had to be dribbled from one side to the other. When it was first implemented as part of a community awareness activity in the “Girls Ahead!” project, there were not enough balls available for the large number of participants, and the sandy ground made it difficult to bounce the balls, so the game was adapted. This illustration comes to show that SA4D’s games are designed to be flexible and adaptable to different local conditions.

Based on the experiences and emotions perceived during the Sport & Play activity, a discussion is then held with the girls. The discussion is guided by the local trainers who follow the “Interactive Learning Cycle” that consists of three parts: Reflect, Connect and Apply.

In the first part, the focus is on the game itself. The girls reflect on whether they like the game and why (not)? Did they learn anything? How did it feel when their “rights” were taken away?

During the subsequent “connection”, the rights of girls are discussed. What rights do they have? Does everyone have rights? What could the playing field symbolize; perhaps life, in which we encounter denial of rights every now and then? What does it mean when a right is taken away from me? Has someone already been deprived of a right? What are the reasons why we are sometimes unable to assert our rights?

In the last part, the girls apply what they have learned to their life context. Questions are discussed, such as what they can do if someone denies them their rights and what support systems are available. In addition, how can they support each other when someone is denied a right? And more generally, are there people at all in their close environment who can deny them their rights?

The following video shows how such a discussion takes place in practice. One can see how the local trainer discusses with the girls after having played the game ”Knowing my rights”.

 

The game “Knowing my rights” and the subsequent discussion ultimately aim to reach a learning goal and create behavioural change among the girls. Their life skills are strengthened, they learn that no one can deny them their rights, find out how to react if such a situation occurs and that there are ways to find support. They become aware in a playful and child-friendly way that everyone has the right to live in an environment that is free of violence and of harmful practices, that satisfies their basic needs (such as health and nutrition) and in which they can develop to their full potential.

Continuous monitoring and systematic evaluation

Continuous monitoring and systematic evaluation are necessary to measure impact. SA4D has rigorous, validated Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) systems and tools, that are specifically adapted to the context and further developed in cooperation with the local partner. In doing so, the project partner’s capacities are built up and the organisation (and beneficiaries) is enabled to independently measure the impact of their own actions in the long term.

Sustainable impact of the project

SA4D works closely with the local non-governmental organisation Waruka Trust Academy (WTA) in this project. Cooperation with local partners is one of the pillars of SA4D’s work. In this way, project sustainability is promoted. Through a “training of trainers” approach, “trainers” from the partner organisation are trained , who then act as local multipliers and are able to continue the activities beyond the project duration. Thereby strengthening our local partner and providing support to many more young women in the long term. Finally, the marketing of agricultural products and the integrated production of organic seeds should contribute to the financial sustainability of the project.

The planned activities contribute to various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations to be achieved by 2030, in particular Goals 1-5, 12 and 13.

Outlook

During the project visit in spring, we saw the progress that could be achieved in this project despite or even in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it was also made clear how difficult the general socio-economic situation in Zimbabwe has become, and what still needs to be done in the final year of the project to ensure that young women and their communities are sustainably empowered.