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Back to See the Girls of Swaziland
Little did I know I’d be returning to Swaziland in less than a year! Crossroads sent me back in March for two weeks. It was great to get out of the polar vortex of Canada, but Swaziland was Noah’s Arc. Fourteen solid days of rain. I can’t help but think Mother Nature is trying to detox herself of all the pollutants humans have forced on her.
My assignment was to interview a number of members of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) Girls Empowerment Clubs. The first couple of days I tried writing up a schedule, but the rain kept getting in the way, along with other activities. We were to drive to schools throughout the country and many times the roads were just too bad.
After one week I had three stories. Not enough to go home with. It was very frustrating. Plus, I had a very sore face from walking into my bathroom wall one night when the power was off. Thank god for makeup. The other Crossroads volunteer, Laura Dowling, went back to Canada after my first week. Staff was stretched thin between having to attend training workshops and having to sensitize 26 schools for new clubs. By the end of this year there will be 46 Girls Empowerment Clubs throughout the country. With an average of 30 members each, that totals 1,380 girls reached. Fantastic.
My last week was the final push and I ended up with 15 interviews. Many of the girls were orphans. Some had had to leave school because they got pregnant. Others had tough tales of rape and incidences of HIV/AIDS. Swaziland is not an easy place if you are female. However, the clubs give these girls hope. They told me they wanted to become nurses, doctors, accountants and geologists. Since joining the clubs their marks had improved. In some cases they finally received the medical attention they required because someone at the club made sure a teacher took them to the clinic. Some of the most impoverished said they were glad to feel equal to their “sisters” and they wanted to help others who were even worse off than themselves.
What an uplifting trip. The stories have been written and submitted and now we’ll put them into a booklet that SWAGAA can use during advocacy campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, or International Day of the Girl Child. The stories, with all names changed to protect the innocent, will hopefully pull on the heartstrings of potential donors and trigger financing for more prevention education. Hopefully they will also come across a politician’s desk and trigger political will for law enforcement and proper punishment of perpetrators.
Despite their tough situations, the girls I met in Swaziland had warm smiles and were filled with sunny optimism. Looking at their faces, I had hope for their futures. God bless the girls of Swaziland.