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UNFPA Sista2Sista Clubs helping young girls get their lives on track

Makonde, Zimbabwe, 12 September, 2018 - Vimbai Shumba is 18 years old. When she failed her Ordinary Level (O’ Levels) exams two years ago, she thought her aspiration to go back to school and study again had reached a dead end. Her father had categorically told her that she had been playful resulting in her failing her exams. Vimbai‘s parents told her that they did not have enough money for her education and she would have to stay at home helping with household chores. She was devastated. It was during this period, that she learnt about the Sista2Sista club and how they were helping young girls of her age.  The clubs are run by mentors who work with girls in similar circumstances to deal with life’s challenges. She joined the club with 24 other girls. Some of the sessions Vimbai went through include sexual and reproductive health, self-awareness and financial awareness.

Vimbai managed to convince her parents to give her $10 to start a small business. She started making samosas that she would sell to students at a school near her home.  Through the encouragement of Sista2Sista Club colleagues and from the proceeds of her small business, Vimbai managed to enroll herself back into school. She is now in Form 3 and is set to re-sit her O’ Level examinations next year. Vimbai has not stopped making samosas and her desire is to be able to continue paying school fees for her younger siblings.

Another Sista2Sista club member Florence Katuruza (22), fell pregnant and married when she was 16 years old. Life with her equally young husband was very hard. The marriage suffered from lack of communication and Florence’s husband was abusive. She believes the violence was always as a result of the couple’s failure to make ends meet. When she heard about the Sista2Sista club from her peers, Florence developed an interest and she immediately joined the club in her locality. She started learning about financial awareness, family planning, communication and Gender Based Violence. The club mentor even held some sessions with her and her husband which helped them to resolve some issues and develop better communication within their marriage. Florence says the Sista2Sista Club saved her marriage and her life.

Florence and Vimbai are some of the many girls whose lives have been touched by the Sista2Sista programme in Makonde District. Launched in 2003, the Sista2Sista programme offers a safe place where adolescent girls can speak with mentors and each other about their problems. Girls in the club learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights, financial literacy, and how to navigate difficult social situations, including coercive relationships.

Vimbai is happy that she joined the Sista2Sista club and is proud of how she has used it to advance herself.  

“I am happy that I am back in school as I can now pay my own school fees and for my sister who is in Grade 7. My life is better than before. I now know that it is possible for other young girls to start income generating projects to sustain themselves and their families,” she says confidently.

“Our mentors told us that girls should be empowered financially and where possible, be able to look after themselves and their families. I wake up at 3am to make the samosas that I sell at school during breaks. I am also part of a club with other Sista2Sista girls where we take turns to give each other money.”

The Sista2Sista mentors deliberately mobilise girls aged between 10 and 24 years within their communities and encourage them to join the club. An assessment is done to determine if one qualifies to join.

Makaita Madyise (49) and Catherine Kasichi (51), both Sista2Sista mentors in Makonde District say they are impressed with their mentees’ achievements.  Madyise says the positive results by the clubs has led to numerous requests by school heads to bring the Sista2Sista programme directly into the schools.

“I am happy because young girls’ lives in this district are changing. The number of financially stable girls has increased, the number of abuse cases that we have reported to the police and issues we have raised with parents are an indication of the impact Sista2Sista has on the communities,” Madziyire says proudly.

“Community members appreciate the work we are doing in empowering girls. There are men who are inviting us to train their wives so that they can continue to mentor their own daughters at home.”

Madziyire and Kasichi officially mentor over fifty girls each per year. Kasichi, however is quick to point out that several girls who are not part of the club and some above 24 years, “simply walk into my house with different issues” indicating how she has managed to gain a lot of respect within the community through her work as a mentor.

“The community has a lot of girls getting into child marriages due to religious and cultural beliefs, there are a lot of abuse situations and the girls approach us to talk about such issues,” Kasichi says. “I am glad to say the Sista2Sista platform is bringing these issues forward and assisting vulnerable young girls.”

“Most of the girls that we mentor are now empowered, not only financially but they are now aware of their sexual and reproductive health and rights and how to take care of themselves when they are faced with abuse in its various forms.”

Under the Health Development Fund which is supported by the governments of Britain, Ireland and Sweden and the European Union, the programme has so far had an enormous impact, 24,096 new girls were recruited into Sista2Sista clubs in 2017, compared to 6,600 recruited in 2016 while 518,156 person exposures to Sista2Sista clubs were achieved during the year by mentors, against a target of 202,500. 

By Jesilyn Dendere