Broadening girls’ horizons in Zambia
As I climbed the stairs to the main meeting room, I could already sense the buzz and excitement. The floor shook as around a hundred girls in their mid-teens performed dances, stamped their feet and sang choruses. The shout went up: “You can make a difference. We can make a difference.” All the girls at the evening debrief wore T-shirts proudly proclaiming ‘Girls 2030’. Everyone I spoke with described being in the middle of a transformative two-week experience. Many were wide-eyed at new experiences during their internships. Many were already imagining the amazement back in the big city when they would recount their experiences to their families, schools, and communities.
So far 5,408 girls are participating in the school career clubs
At the end of each day, the girls come together to share experiences from the workplaces of Lusaka. They have travelled from schools across the country to take part in two-week internships at participating public and private companies including the National Assembly, a telecoms company, and the water utility company.
Girls 2030 is a project supported by UNICEF in Zambia with generous funding from the London Stock Exchange Group. It aims to give teenage girls training in life skills and financial literacy, and a broader vision for their careers. More than 200 school clubs are up and running, complemented by an annual motivational camp, and two rounds of internship programmes in the spring and summer. So far 5,408 girls are participating in the school career clubs. 829 girls have gone through the summer career camps and 233 girls have completed two weeks of internship placements.
As one girl after another takes the microphone to speak to her peers, there’s a mix of experiences from the day and motivational advice, often gleaned from the professional mentors the students have each been assigned. One girl recounts discovering a computer for the first time and describes the different pieces of hardware that make a computer work. Others share advice on being confident, learning from failure, and “being careful with boyfriends”. There’s a big cheer for the slogan ‘school first, marriage later’. Zambia has some of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, something that almost always means an end to a girl’s education, and a curtailing of future opportunities.
Here are the voices of three of the Girls 2030 participants:
Joyce Muzhiwo, 16
“I’ve never experienced being in a big group like this. It has been really good to interact with girls from different districts. It’s really gorgeous to see big buildings – it has really motivated me. I’ve experienced being in a big office for the first time – maybe before I’d just been in the headmaster’s office. But now I’ve been in places where my father has never been. Where even women are managers. We saw swimming pools for the first time – I’d just swam in rivers before.
“I want to make my mum proud. I had wanted to be a medical doctor, but now I want to be an accountant after these interactions. I’m passionate about that. I really love balancing books at the end of the year. I’ll go back home and teach others about what I’ve learned. I’ll tell others that for us to reach our goals, we’ll really have to study hard, and no-one can get in my way.”
Chileleko Habukale, 14
“I came as a future doctor, but I’m now going back as a future water engineer because of the things which I was told by my mentors, the experiences which I’ve gone through, the things which I’ve seen by myself, not someone telling me, but me seeing them with my own eyes. They have made me change what I was thinking of. I never thought of seeing a lady as an engineer – I thought the engineering thing was just for men. But since I came here I’ve met people with different careers, careers that I thought were just for men and I was inspired. It’s really shocking that in the construction set-up there are only a few ladies, so I want to be among those few ladies to inspire other women.
“The main thing that I’ve learned from my mentor is that I shouldn’t give up. I shouldn’t let anything be a barrier to my education – be it financial problems or other things. So, she told me to focus, and we shouldn’t be saying that ‘this is for men’. I can do what a man can do. We have a water problem at home. Since I changed my career to be a water engineer, I want to surprise my family by showing them how it’s done. I want to put water where I know that there’s no water. I want to impress my family by showing what I’ve learned here.”
Bridget Linda, 16
“I met this woman who was my mentor – she talked to us and she told us that in this world it’s not always that you get whatever you want. And there are some times that you should choose a career not just from what a person gets paid when they first start working, but instead look at your weaknesses in school – which subjects are you good in? Don’t just go for a career because I’ve seen that person [do it]. And sometimes it’s lack of exposure.
“For everything, I just want to thank UNICEF and everyone involved for looking after us, and everyone that gave me this opportunity to come here because it has really changed my life. With this, I’ve learned that I really need to work hard and study hard in order to achieve something. I’m coming from a family where my parents are teachers and my elder siblings are also teachers, but for me, I want to make a difference in my family and do something out of what everyone is expecting.”
John James is Chief of Communication, UNICEF Zambia.