A leadership training programme in Tanzania aims at reducing the vulnerability of out-of-school adolescent girls, who are at high risk for HIV, gender-based violence and unwanted pregnancy.
Fatuma Djamali was born in 1996 in Ruvuma region, in Tanzania’s southern highlands. Since she was in primary school, her life has been dominated by solitude and fear.
|© UNICEF Tanzania/2013/Bisin|
|Fatuma Djamali (left) and her friend Rebecca Richard are receiving support through a UNICEF-supported project aiming to reduce the vulnerability of out-of-school adolescent girls to HIV.|
"My father separated from my mum when I was 12 years old. My mum left for Dar es Salaam and never came back. She left me behind. My father had another woman and decided to move with her to another town. So I was on my own most of the time. He only gave me TSh10,000 [about US$7] each month. It simply was not enough to pay for food and transport to school. I only ate once or twice a day back then,” 17-year-old Fatuma remembers.
“Then I met that boy. He was my age and going to the same school. He was helping me out. I did not feel lonely any more,” Fatuma continues. “He often spent the night at my place. That’s how I got pregnant. I was 16 at the time. My father only found out about the pregnancy when I gave birth. He chased me away and that’s how I came to Dar es Salaam to live with my mother.”
Reaching vulnerable adolescent girls
Fatuma’s life changed when she was approached by volunteers from Mabinti Tushike Hatamu! (Girls, Let’s Be Leaders!), a project supported by UNICEF and partner organzation Restless Development. Adolescent girls who are out of school are at high risk for contracting HIV, experiencing gender-based violence and facing unplanned pregnancy. The initiative aims to help girls and young women aged 10 to 19 become leaders in their communities and live healthy, fulfilled lives.
“I have learnt a lot since I started meeting three times a week with street volunteers. I know about gender-based violence and how to prevent teen pregnancy, transmission of HIV and other diseases,” Fatuma says. “I wish I had all that knowledge just a couple of years ago when I got pregnant. I would then either have made sure to use a condom or to be strong enough to say no when the boy I was in love with asked me to have sex with him.”
Fatuma says she now feels more confident to make safe choices regarding her sexual and reproductive health and rights.
|© UNICEF Tanzania/2013/Bisin|
|Fatuma says since joining the project, she feels more confident to make safe choices regarding her sexual and reproductive health and rights.|
Through Restless Development, Girls’ clubs have been formed in 27 villages, providing safe learning spaces for adolescent girls. As of April, they had educated 2,267 adolescent girls in sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as life skills. More than 7,200 community members, community leaders and parents have been sensitized on girls’ rights.
From mid-October, UNICEF, in partnership with Restless Development and the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), is supporting national awareness-raising efforts by broadcasting public service announcements on national TV and radio, calling on girls to join the initiative.
Today, Fatuma’s baby girl is 14 months old. Fatuma’s mother sells vegetables and fruits at the local market and is finding it hard to make ends meet. Fatuma has joined a tailoring class facilitated by Restless Development, which will help her start a small business and earn an income to support her family.
“My dream is to become a secondary school teacher. I like the job, and I think I can do better. I love my baby girl,” Fatuma says. “If I have a job, I’d like my daughter to go to a better school than I did, so she can have a future.”