Often, just one successful experience in making a difference can transform a girl's belief in her own capacity.

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Girls Academy for Conscious Change

As Rwanda rebuilds in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide and Uganda heals from the reign of terror of the Lord's Resistance Army in the North, there remains a stark education gap between girls and boys. According to UNICEF, in Rwanda, only 4% of girls complete high school. In Uganda, 85% of girls leave school early. For girls, their potential for leadership hinges upon (a) their ability to stay in school, (b) their development of social-emotional capacities like self-awareness, self-confidence, responsible decision-making, healthy relationships and empathy, and (c) practical opportunities to apply their leadership skills to actualize their potential. Unfortunately, the circumstances facing young girls are sobering:

  • One-third of girls in the developing world will be married before the age of 18. (UNICEF 2010)
  • Half of all first births in the developing world are to adolescent girls. (Population Council 2007)
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than one in five girls make it to secondary school. (Center for Gender Equity 2006) In Rwanda, only 4% of girls complete high school. (UNICEF) In Uganda, 85% of girls leave school early.
  • An extra year of primary school education boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 per cent. An extra year of secondary school adds 15–25 per cent. (World Bank 2002)
  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (Center for Global Development 2009)

Even among those few girls who make it to secondary school, they are pressured during school breaks by families to find jobs, are courted by male predators and are at highest risk of teen pregnancy and abuse. Consequently, many drop out of school, undermining their potential to end the cycle of poverty and become change leaders. Finally, those who have the potential to overcome their circumstances and lead have little opportunity to experiment with leadership skills outside the classroom.

The Girls Academy for Conscious Change adapts Global Grassroots’ proven curriculum to provide an avenue for vulnerable high school girls to advance their own solutions to the issues that matter most to them in their home villages. Our program enables young change agents to promote the physical, educational, social, emotional and financial wellbeing of other girls in their communities — and to claim the same for themselves. Through personal growth work, our curriculum deepens their sense of agency, courage and power to act for social change, while our incubator provides concrete skills and opportunity to design and operate their own ideas around the issues that affect them most. As these young women go out into their communities to launch their own ideas for the first time, we offer a safe container for new leaders to process, integrate and learn from their experiences. We believe this represents a more transformative and comprehensive approach to community development, leadership and empowerment. As our girls tell us after completing the program, they now know they have the capacity to change their world – confidence and tools that will guide them throughout their lives.

The inaugural Girls Academy for Conscious Change launched in the village of Rwinkwavu, in Eastern Rwanda in November 2012 in partnership with the Komera Project. The Komera Project advances secondary education of girls in Rwanda by providing both mentorship and financial support to girls for whom secondary education is otherwise not possible, including teenage mothers, girls who are HIV+ and those who are the heads of their child-headed households. In 2014 we expanded our work to Uganda, in partnership with Cornerstone Development, with whom we are now also collaborating in Rwanda. The Cornerstone Leadership Academy, a boarding school for high-performing students from impoverished communities and diverse backgrounds (in terms of religion, socio-economic status and ethnic group) for the last two years of high school before university. In fact, some are the first within their entire village to complete high school. Many of the girls who graduate from high school still end up getting derailed from university because of pregnancy or pressure from families during the 9-month gap between high school graduation and university enrollment to get jobs and contribute to household needs. Our Girls Academy is positioned during this time frame to give girls their first opportunity to apply their leadership skills, give back to their communities and create change through a volunteer endeavor of their own design.

>Read more about the original social ventures launched by our first cohort of vulnerable high school girls

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