By Akosua Afriyie Boakye
This is an ambiguous phrase that calls to mind many scenarios; the good, bad and ugly…. making one wonder exactly what is meant or was meant by its user. In the case of Akua Blessing, a form one student of Amanchia District Authority Junior High School in the Atwima Nwabiagya district of the Ashanti region in Ghana, it concerned a pair of rubber sandals, a pair of torn leather sandals and her bare feet.
On the 27TH May, 2016 during delivery of orange seedlings to the WHW Girls Club, I saw that all club members as well as students of Amanchia D/A were neatly dressed in clean uniforms, white socks and sandals. One student stood out! She was dressed in a clean and well-ironed uniform, with her hair combed neatly BUT had no shoes. Class mates giggled and teased as they passed by her while others smiled and patted her arm or shoulder in sympathy.
Upon enquiry, it was revealed that, Blessing had worn black flip flops locally referred to as Charlie Wote to school that morning, because her only pair of well-worn sandals had come apart the previous night before while cleaning it for school. However, it is against the school regulations to wear Charlie wote to school and the pair of flip flops had been seized in accordance with the school rule and poor Akua now had to go barefoot as she had no acceptable foot wear to put on even if she went back home.
Akua lost her Charlie wote and had to bear the shame and humiliation of walking barefoot on the rough stony compound and being tagged as a disobedient student.
Fortunately for Akua, WHW provided a new pair of approved sandals and so she did not have to go through the humiliation of walking barefoot for days, weeks or even months on end.
Food for thought
Knowing full well the implications of her actions that fateful morning as Akua set off to school, her desire for an education with a better future at all costs, made her do the unthinkable….
One cannot help but wonder,
- How many more Akua Blessings are in communities outside the operational areas of WHW?
- How long can these young ladies keep up with the taunts of their peers and community members for lack of one need or the other in seeking to make a better future for themselves and posterity through education?
Female literacy is one of the key interventions pursued by Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) to help transform the lives of women and girls in our areas of operation in Ghana’s Ashanti region.
Currently, middle school (here, junior high) is the highest level of educational attainment for fully half of the girls in WHW’s area, which is centered in Ashanti’s capital city, Kumasi, and includes the surrounding periurban communities. This incomplete education adversely affects the girls’ potential earnings, as they end up with jobs that keep them trapped in the lowest wealth quintiles, thereby perpetuating the poverty cycle and its respective undesirable effects on the health of women and their eventual dependants.
As a strategy for promoting girls’ education up to senior high school, WHW decided to expand our Girls’ Clubs program from Kumasi schools to junior high schools in severely depressed communities in the seven districts bordering the city that have been noted for low enrollments of girls in both junior and senior high. The Clubs provide a safe place for girls to establish their identities and develop the emotional strength to interface successfully with their community.
At the invitation of the districts’ education teams, WHW started preparatory activities in March 2015 by holding meetings in those districts where we were already working to improve the health of the area’s many market women by offering health screenings at our regular mobile clinics. Our meetings concluded with the enthusiastic district teams’ selecting the communities and school facilitators who would participate in the program and determining specific timelines for training the facilitators and starting the programme.
Training of Facilitators: From May 19-21, 2015, WHW led a three-day residential training workshop for the 19 schools-based facilitators and three District Girl Child Coordinators that covered in some depth those issues adversely affecting girls’ education and ways to address them through the Girls’ Clubs.
The objectives of the training were as follows:
- To identify and explore factors adversely affecting the education of girls in our communities,
- To explore with facilitators some possible strategies to address the issues raised;
- To orient facilitators on WHW
- To review and train facilitators on the WHW Girls’ Club draft curriculum
- To finalise timelines for the start of Girls’ Clubs in their schools.
At the end of the workshop, the facilitators’ evaluations made clear that they felt strongly empowered by the training and were extremely eager to start the Clubs in their respective schools.
The facilitators then set about encouraging the Grade 7 girls in their schools to register for Club membership and decided to hold the first session during the week of June 8, 2015. In two communities, registration was opened up to girls in Grades 5 and 6, as WHW was told that these girls kept dropping out at grade 5, due to unintended pregnancies. It was hoped that, with a safe space to come to, together with other girls and facilitators, such pregnancies might be avoided, going forward.
Uses of Technology: During the three-day facilitators’ workshop, WHW staff helped them create Internet accounts on their smartphones. The “WhatsApp” application was used to develop a page that could facilitate communication between WHW and facilitators, as facilitators deemed this application as more user-friendly than getting on the Internet.
The WhatsApp page has greatly influenced communication and feedback between WHW and participating schools by reducing costs and speeding up information transfer between parties. Facilitators use the page mainly to report back to WHW on their weekly meetings, while WHW uses it to share information and to provide feedback to facilitators.
Next Steps: We anticipate a surge in membership in the existing Clubs at the start of the next academic season. However, we intend to keep the numbers no higher than 30 per Club, in order to give the facilitators enough time to spend with each girl.
WHW’s goal is to expand the Girls’ Clubs to six new junior high schools before the close of 2015.
Interested in continuing the conversation about Education?
On the 55th anniversary of Ghana’s Republic Day on July 1, 2015, Women’s Health to Wealth used this public holiday to hold the first in its series of Adolescent Reproductive Health Fora (ARHF) for female students of the Simms Senior High School in the Kwabre East district of the Ashanti Region. The theme for the forum was “Be a Strong Girl – Know the Facts!”
The high and unacceptable rates of teenage pregnancy of 99 in 1000 live births in the region coupled with high rates of complications of unsafe abortions among girls in secondary institutions, and the low completion rates of girls in second-cycle institutions in the region prompted WHW to include the ARHF as one of its strategies to address this menace.
WHW used this opportunity to inform and educate the girls on adolescent reproductive health issues, provide a platform for girls to share problems related to their sexuality, and also identify girls who would be used as peer educators in the school.
Funding for the program was through the kind support of Women Strong International. WHW partner AmeriCares supported the Forum by providing each girl with a pack of sanitary towels, panty liners and 2 toothbrushes, to improve their personal hygiene. Marie Stopes International also supported the forum, with the donation of 100 branded exercise books, 30 note pads, 100 key holders as souvenirs and 200 handbills on useful reproductive health information for the girls.
334 female students and 10 tutors from the school, nine facilitators from the WHW Girls Clubs in the Afigya Kwabre and Kwabre East districts, two resource persons each attended the forum from the Ghana Health Service and Marie Stopes International, as well as five staff members of WHW.
The Assistant Headmistress, Cassandra Antobre in her address after an opening prayer by Mary Boakye, the Senior House Mistress of Simms, stressed the timeliness and appropriate nature of the forum and urged the students to take advantage of the presence of the resource persons to seek answers to their health and sexuality issues.
The WHW Executive Director, Nana Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng, gave an overview of WHW’s objectives with regards to female literacy, and she introduced the rest of the invited guests. She shared the statistics based on Demographic and Health Surveys on adolescent reproductive health issues from the global to the local setting, such as teenage pregnancy, contraception, unsafe abortion, anaemia, education, mental health and injuries.
Ms Memuna Yankasa Mahama, a Senior Nutrition Officer of the Ghana Health Service provided education on nutrition during adolescence. She stressed on the need to eat balanced meals, with emphasis on adequate intake of fruits and vegetables and reduction in fatty and sugary foods.
She stressed on need for routine exercise and talked about good and inexpensive ways, like dancing, walking briskly and jogging where possible.
Mr Peter Titiati, the Regional Coordinator for the Youth Project at Marie Stopes International,addressed the issue of having a positive self-image. He talked about the need for girls to be confident, to have a lot of knowledge and skills, to take pride in who they are, to identify and know what to do in order to boost their confidence, and to always place their education first. It is only then that they can actually control their sexuality.
The girls were given the opportunity to pose questions to the panel. The questions covered a variety of topics from menstruation, sex and sexually transmitted infections (STI), through contraceptives to the issue of sexual abuse by some guardians.
Mr Simeon Acheampong, Regional Manager for Marie Stopes International, also proved to be an invaluable resource during the discussion period, and together with the panel provided concrete and practical responses to questions asked. Several students also interacted with members of the panel on a one-on-one basis after the forum to seek guidance on highly personal issues. Girls with STIs were referred to the Marie Stopes centre for management.
Observations and Findings
- The school does not have an infirmary where girls can go when they are ill
- The majority of the girls had been given some amount of adolescent reproductive health knowledge from their female teachers, and they had no problems talking about condom use
- 60% of the questions posed to the panel were related to sexual and contraception issues, 30% were related to menstruation and menstrual issues, 9% were related to candidiasis and the remaining 1% talked about anaemia and its effect on the individual’s studies
- The panel gave very brief but concrete responses to questions asked by girls
- A large number of the girls had specific problems they wanted to discuss with the panelists after the program
- The program was very interesting for the gathering, as the majority of them seemed excited -21 girls voluntarily registered with WHW to train as peer educators for the school. The training will be organized during the upcoming vacation period. The trained team will form the nucleus of the WHW Girls Club in the school.
After a brief meeting after the forum between the WHW team and the GHS team, the following suggestions were made for subsequent fora:
- More time should be allotted to issues regarding Sexually Transmitted Infections, as most of the questions were focused on sexual issues.
- The time for the program was short, and an additional hour should be added.
- WHW to liaise with GHS for training program for peer educators.
- The Assistant Headmistress to coordinate with WHW on possible ARHF at Antoa Senior High School before end of July 2015.
Interested in continuing the conversation about Health and Wellness?
Mary Dufie, 14, is a Grade 7 pupil at Worakose Junior High School and a member of the WHW Girls’ Club in the Ashanti region’s Bosomtwe district. Mary (not her real name) is the only girl in her family, born between her two male siblings.
Mary’s parents operate a drinking bar where the top-selling drink is the locally brewed drink known as “Akpeteshie.” Unfortunately for Mary and her brothers, their parents have a great affinity for their product and are almost always busy and drunk, therefore paying little or no attention to their children’s daily needs. This has resulted in hunger and neglect and has led to Mary’s brothers’ abandoning school and idling about in the neighborhood.
Mary caught the attention of the WHW facilitator, who has reached out to others and is working to help the child continue with her education and not succumb to the pressure from her parents to stop schooling and assist them in their trade.
Mary and six other girls with similarly heartbreaking stories of parental neglect are currently being helped by WHW to put body and soul back together and to stay in school.
Every year a girl stays in school can increase in her future income by 10 percent, and when women earn more, they are more likely than men to spend the money on food, health, family and education. But there are many obstacles to overcome in keeping girls in school.
In the Kwabre East District of the Ashanti region, teenage pregnancy is a leading cause of girls dropping out. But Nancy Boakyewaa, a determined 16-year-old mother, is defying the trend, proving that even the most vulnerable adolescent girl can, with the right support, begin to feel safe again, recover her appetite for learning and unite her community behind her.
Born on June 14, 1999, Nancy is the seventh of 10 children of Comfort Boakye, a farmer, and Joseph Boakye, the Roman Catholic catechist in the community.
In August, after dating a young man in her community, Nancy gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Josephine Maame Abena Boakye. We first met Nancy in July at the Krobo District Assembly Junior High School Girls’ Club, where, under a program supported by WomenStrong International, we were counselling teenage and expectant mothers about their future. After intense counselling sessions with Nancy and her mother, Nancy agreed to go back to school after giving birth, if her mother would look after baby Josephine.
Now in Grade 7, Nancy is excited to be back in school. “It feels as though I never left because everyone makes me feel good about being back,” she says.
Support comes from everyone. Her mother brings the baby to school, and her teachers give her time in between classes to breastfeed. Women’s Health to Wealth provides some financial support to Nancy and her mother for the baby and for school supplies, and her classmates have also been very supportive.
Nancy sees herself becoming a nurse in the future. Of staying in school, she says,
“I am doing this first for myself, for my little girl and for your organisation that gives hope to people like me. I want to further my education to improve upon my life and secure my baby’s future. I also want to support my family in the future.”
Thanks to the timely, far-sighted intervention by WHW, Nancy’s dream has a better shot at actually becoming her reality, thereby improving her and her family’s chances of leading fruitful, more fulfilling lives freed of extreme hardship.
Regular exercise by adolescents is known to promote physical fitness, reduce stress and improve classroom performance. Team sports in particular enhance adolescents’ social and psychological development, including confidence, goal-setting and leadership: all critical to developing strong, healthy, empowered young women, a primary goal of Women’s Health to Wealth and its partner organization WomenStrong International.
To this end, on Friday, November 20, girls in the Afigya Kwabre district of Ashanti competed in a football match, or, in American parlance, a soccer game. The smaller girls from Swedru Junior High School were intimidated by the tall, athletic stature of the girls at Wawase Junior High School, but played valiantly for 70 minutes. At the end of the match, Wawase came out victorious, 2-0.
After the game WHW Girls’ Clubs Coordinator Sheila Effah-Kyei led a discussion about confidence, one of the seven key strengths emphasized in the Girls’ Clubs’ curriculum. The girls learned how confidence can help them overcome obstacles in their lives by focusing on achieving their goals, rather than on their perceived limitations.
The football game was a welcome new activity for the Girls’ Club, getting everyone out of the classroom and interacting with girls from different schools. After this success, WHW will continue to explore innovative ways to collaborate with the girls on their roads to self-discovery.