“The girls now have their own vision for the future. They are making their own decisions.”

The Girls Education Challenge (GEC) is a UKAID initiative to break down barriers to education faced by girls around the world. In Ethiopia, early marriage and domestic labour are just two of the challenges keeping girls out of school. 

ChildHope is proud to be supporting these girls through the GEC programme in Ethiopia’s two largest regions, Oromia and Amhara. We are working in partnership with a local organisation called CHADET, which has over 20 years’ experience of supporting vulnerable children. We met Sindu Ayele, a teacher from Kadida primary school in Amhara who is helping the girls in her community to build brighter futures for themselves.

Girls in Ethiopia face many challenges to completing their education. They may face pressure from their families to marry early or may have to complete domestic chores before attending school, an issue their brothers do not face. If they do make it school, the quality of teaching can be poor and toilet facilities are often lacking, which means girls particularly suffer during their periods.

The Girls Education Challenge (GEC) programme aims to remove or lessen these threats to girls’ education. Each GEC project school has a focal teacher who plays a key safeguarding role in the project, co-ordinating the Girls’ Club, managing the sanitary corner and acting as a para-counsellor providing advice and support to girls.

Sindu Ayele is passionate about girls’ education. She has been teaching for 14 years and for the last five years she’s been a focal teacher at Kadida primary school in South Wollo, Kombolcha district. Recognising the strength of cultural beliefs around early marriage for both parents and girls, she tries to change attitudes through teaching and negotiation with families.

Each GEC school has a Letter Link box in which girls can report safeguarding issues like abuse, neglect or threats of early marriage. Sindu empties the box twice a week, records the safeguarding issues and initiates a response. For example, if a girl is at risk of an early marriage arranged by her family, Sindu approaches CHADET’s Community workers, who start negotiations with the family to stop the marriage so that the girl can remain in school. This approach is generally successful. But if the family insist on the marriage Sindu and CHADET can involve the Community Care Coalition (CCC), which includes officials from the local Child Services office. They can step in and enforce the law that forbids early marriage.

Sindu has seen a reduction in the number of early marriages. In 2016, eight cases were reported and Sindu and CHADET were able to stop six. In one case, the family moved away from the area and in the other, the parents refused to stop the marriage. In 2017, there were just five cases of early marriages, four of which were stopped. The one that wasn’t involved the girl being married away from home.

If Sindu receives a report about physical, sexual or psychological abuse, she immediately involves the CCC, which make an assessment taking into consideration the best interests of the child. The police are also involved.

In the Girls’ Club, Sindu guides girls in their conversations about issues such as early marriage, menstruation, peer pressure and risky migration. She helps them plan radio shows and drama performances, which give them the opportunity to share their learning and raise awareness of these issues among the wider student community. The Girls’ Club has given the girls so much more confidence that many are now bypassing the Letter Link boxes and going straight to Sindu for advice and support.

Sindu describes how the GEC has had a big impact on girls’ safety and security, which in turn has boosted their confidence so that they attend school more regularly and participate more in class. For example, the sanitary corners provide a safe, clean space where girls can find sanitary pads and a bed to rest on. In the past month, 52 girls have used the sanitary corner. Previously, many of those girls would have stayed at home during their periods to avoid being teased by the boys.

Sindu says that thanks to the GEC programme, “The girls now have their own vision for the future. They are making their own decisions.”

Khadija* is one girl whose life has changed for the better as a result of the GEC. At 15, she was approached by a young man who was originally from the community but was now living in Addis Ababa. He offered Khadija gifts and asked her to marry him. She was underage and her family were against the marriage, but she insisted that she wanted to go ahead with it.

Khadija’s friends were concerned. As members of the Girls’ Club, they alerted Sindu to Khadija’s situation. Sindu invited Khadija to the Girls’ Club where she found out about the risks of early marriage, while her friends persuaded her that she was too young to become a wife.

“The Girls’ Club saved my life,” says Khadija. She returned the ring and the other gifts to the young man, who went back to Addis Ababa.

Khadija is now a full-time member of the Girls’ Club. She’s learning about risky migration, how to deal with peer pressure and how to avoid harassment from boys. Her favourite class is biology and her ambitions have now changed: she wants to become a doctor.

*Name changed for privacy purposes.

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