One of the most important aspects of the LitWorld Girls Clubs is the opportunity for girls to form deep friendships that provide the kind of support network that is crucial, even life-saving, to a girl growing up in a slum like Kibera. The school day does not provide the time for that; girls have many responsibilities at home, and the slum is too treacherous to be outside at night. What I noticed about all the girls I met who participate in LitWorld’s Girls Clubs was the strength of the relationships between the girls in the club and the love, support and compassion they showed toward one another. The facilitators of the girls clubs, most of whom are trained using internet technology and Skype, follow a curriculum developed by LitWorld that helps to create a safe, nurturing environment where the girls feel free to express themselves, and this creates closeness and cohesiveness among the members of the group.
While it is great that LitWorld has had the opportunity to visit the Girls Club in Kibera annually for the past 4 years, the Clubs we met with in Kisumu, and many others that the LitWorld team has yet to visit all over the world in places like Ghana, India, and Iraq, were begun as a result of the advocacy work of LitWorld; other literacy advocates and teachers reaching to the organization, expressing an interest in starting a club and becoming a facilitator, and receiving their training via Skype.
In places like Kibera and Kisumu, so many obstacles stand in the way of a girl’s education and the possibility of breaking the cycle of poverty. We were told how some of the fishermen on Lake Victoria near the school we visited in Kisumu lure girls away with food in the morning, taking advantage of their constant hunger. Three girls at the primary school there had contracted AIDS this way. Only some schools have “feeding programs” that provide for too many of the children the only meal they have in the day. Others are married at alarmingly young ages, as their families need the dowry and the added benefit of having one less mouth to feed.
Through my own participation with the girls, mothers, and teachers in the workshops that LitWorld led in Kibera and in Kisumu, I learned that literacy is not only reading and writing, but also listening and speaking. Every girl I met who was part of a LitWorld Girls Club showed maturity, polite assertiveness, pride and confidence in speaking that I have no doubt was cultivated through the literacy strengthening activities in which I saw the girls participate. These attributes are already helping them to advocate for themselves.
For example, a group of girls at Red Rose School in Kibera, home to the flagship Girls Club, approached us with a proposal they had been discussing. They had the idea to board at school because the small one room shacks where they lived, some with more than 5 family members, were an impossible place to read or do homework or study, especially the ones with a TV. They said they would do all the cooking and cleaning themselves since they do this at home anyway. They were very serious, and each had already spoken with their parents or caregivers about the idea. They were a group of 10-12 year olds, and they were LitWorld Girls Club girls.
I realize that LitWorld cannot address all of the problems that face girls and boys like the ones I met in Kibera and Kisumu. But through partnerships and collaborations, like the ones with Children of Kibera, Millennium Cities Initiative, Yonkers Partners in Education, Youth Action International in Liberia, Children’s Village, and others, LitWorld can continue to do what they do best... empower children along with their teachers and caregivers so they can find their own voices and develop the skills to advocate for themselves.
- Lauren B.