Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
If any words sum up Binti Shupavu in 2020, these are it!
Binti Shupavu is Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative’s life skills program for lower secondary school girls. When the year began, 4,795 enthusiastic girls were enrolled across four grades at 22 schools in Northern Tanzania. All students were abruptly sent home for an indefinite period of time in mid-March due to COVID-19. When schools reopened in June with enhanced safety precautions (helped by GLAMI), all but 32 Binti Scholars reported back. This is simply remarkable at a time when girls’ education hangs in the balance due to the pandemic. (The primary cause for a girl not returning was early pregnancy.)
Binti Shupavu Project Managers, Chausiku Mkuya and Asimwe Suedi, reflect on the challenges and successes of 2020 and consider what 2021 has in store for their team’s important and meaningful work. Note that the photos included in this blog were taken before COVID-19. Students in Tanzania are wearing masks and social distancing.
We believe that in every situation, there is learning to be done. In 2020, we were forced to “embrace the new normal” of constant upheaval. The adoption of new ways to reach our beneficiaries during COVID-19 has given us the ability to plan more effectively for 2021 – and beyond. The pandemic actually made us consider what we are doing and how we are doing it. This gave us greater appreciation for why we are doing it.
As the year 2020 began, we had no way of knowing the immense changes that we’d have to incorporate for the program to continue impacting hundreds of girls. With hope and courage, we are now at the end of 2020 and we are able to see how our team’s adaptability actually brought about positive results.
Because of our culture, it was a struggle for our staff to adapt to working from home for an extended period of time. Eventually, we all became better at it, united by our singular focus on supporting the girls during this confusing, stressful, and often hopeless feeling, time. There are three key areas where we revised how we worked, due to schools being shut down for several months.
- Multiple communication approaches between Mentors and Scholars, and their parents.
- Prioritizing social work support services to our girls.
- Launching a far-reaching radio talk show program discussing the same issues introduced in class.
This is what we found to happen. The frequent outreach by Mentors to their Scholars strengthened their relationship and also built trust with the parents. It created awareness for the program among many parents and guardians who had never had a chance to explore and understand what Binti Shupavu does. Parents began to reach out to us. We are convinced that the Mentors’ encouraging and reinforcing messages to Scholars and parents helped the vast majority of girls return to school.
After schools reopened, we were in the classroom less often, but made every moment count. We also did Year Four graduations differently – they were lower cost, but the girls were equally happy! Each Scholar was given a photo of herself in her school uniform. This was a very special keepsake as many girls cannot afford to have one taken.
At GLAMI, each team sits down and creates a list of activities they would like to achieve for the coming year. These become our benchmarks for measuring our growth and impact. 2020 taught us that not only having plans is important, but we also need to have realistic ways to achieve them. We also listen to the girls in the program. At the end of each year, we provide a survey so that they can give us honest feedback and recommendations for how the program can be even more useful to their lives.
Our team agrees that the number one goal for 2021 is to stay alive and be financially stable. One of our social workers, Ndiini Kidoko, summed it up this way. “2020 has taught me two things. One, we need to save our earnings little by little, as we do not know what tomorrow holds. Second, all the material things that we human beings always admire are nothing if we do not have a living. Therefore, I think it is high time we concentrate on our health and our family, rather than thinking of material things.”
Thinking ahead to 2021, we are planning a number of measures based on what we learned in 2020.
- Reshaping the system of recruiting the right girls for the program, those who need it most.
- Adding two outreach social workers so that the girls can have easier access.
- Continuing to deliver the curriculum in an engaging and fun way.
- Keeping stakeholders, such as government officials, informed and involved.
- Conducting regular check-ins with the parents and teachers of our beneficiaries.
- Working as a team – unity is something we have proven we are good at!
Onward and upward for Binti Shupavu in 2021!
Binti Shupavu is a four-year life skills course for lower secondary school girls covering topics such as study skills, personal leadership, health and self-confidence with the goal of increasing graduation rates for vulnerable girls.