A few months back I took up a short research assignment with BBC World Service Trust on their Girl Hub communication project. The purpose was to conduct focused group discussions on media literacy with in-school girls, out of school girls aged between 12 to 18 and community gatekeepers. The target groups I was working with were located in the two small towns of Meki and Fiche, both about two hours drive away from Addis. The humble surroundings testament to the problems girls in these small towns experience in relation to poverty and perhaps in relation to culture. The task at hand was to share with these girls and the community gatekeepers’ short documentaries of Ethiopian women of humble origins who became successful by persevering against all odds.
There was the story of Tirunesh who came to Addis Ababa from a rural community in the Amhara region when her mother died, with nothing but the vision to succeed in supporting herself and later on her younger brother. By day she goes to school and by nights she produces paper bags for sale using paper waste that she finds strewn all over town and collects for this very purpose – a story of innovation in tackling scarcity. Then there was Sisay who began her entrepreneurial journey by selling coal then butter in rural town markets and excelled into owning a minibus supported by tapping into microfinance opportunities. Now she supports her parents and her family of two, by also creating income opportunities for her father and husband in employment with her.
Our discussion following the viewing of these short documentaries revolved around feelings. Feelings evoked when watching these documentaries and of feelings evoked when thinking of their future (and their daughters’ future for the community gatekeepers). Notably much shier in the more remote settings, the girls shared with me that they felt inspired by these women especially as there were no such stories of success in their immediate communities and realized that they too can be in a position of changing their lives like the central figures in the documentaries. They shared that Tirunesh and Sisay’s story helped them understand that poverty is not an excuse to not try; that despite one’s own circumstances there is an opportunity to succeed through hard work. They shared that they felt motivated not to be idle and explore how they can pursue their goals; that they learned how the loss of something could be a source of strength; that they felt they needed to travel through life with purpose. They shared that they were motivated to be role models themselves for other girls in difficult circumstances and inspire them by sharing these stories. They shared that it instilled hope within them to let their personal visions flourish.
Some of the mothers and girls shared that the daily realities of girls in their community was physical and sexual violence perpetrated against them within their homes and on their way to school. The very journey to a place that would help them explore possibilities other than the ones their mothers’ had was riddled with the display of gender power disparities – raped on their way to school.
Yet, I also witnessed inspiration in development as I watched their eyes twinkle with possibilities. Possibilities for girls growing into women found through the sharing of stories of young girls and women who like them were of difficult circumstances but pushed on through.
Love & Light