This Girl Can - Empowering girls in rural Tanzania.

She walks tall. Only a teenager, she is dressed in her school uniform – she should be doing her homework. Instead, she is walking a five-kilometre journey to collect drinking water from the nearest stream – a journey that can be dangerous for young girls. In reaching the stream, she has to be careful not to fall in as she reaches the bucket down to the dirty water…it wasn’t long ago that news spread across the community of a child drowning whilst collecting their drinking water – she would fare no better. The muddy water that fills her bucket feels like the weight of the world as she starts her journey back home. By the time she reaches home, she is exhausted. She still has more household chores to do – no studying for her.

A young girl sits alone at home in the dark. She can’t sleep. Wide eyed and listening out for any sound, she’s hoping and praying that tonight won’t be the night. Her talk with her grandmother on female genital mutilation didn’t help. The sat together and talked nicely; she tried to educate her grandmother. But her grandmother still insists that it is an important rite of passage to becoming a woman…even though she is still only fourteen. Once she is cut – without any medical attention – she will be deemed ready for marriage. She must get married as it will prove her a woman and worthy to take care of the husband that was chosen for her and her family. She cries thinking of how her friends will continue with their studies at school as she takes care of her much older husband. She knows she needs to leave to find safety before it is too late.

At sixteen years old she should be in class with her friends, learning mathematics, science and more exciting subjects that would take her towards her dream of becoming a lawyer. Instead, she is with her new-born baby. She was raped on one of her long walks and fell pregnant. No one found out who the father was as he left town shortly afterwards. As soon as the school found out she was pregnant, she was expelled – she had forfeited her right to an education, unwillingly. She has also been disowned by her family. Of course, she loves her child now, but she also still dreams of going back to school and becoming a lawyer when she is older – something that will never happen now.

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population – and Tanzania’s – and thus, also represents half of our potential. Yet, the above are just a few of the barriers that young girls in Tanzania continue to face. Girls are still having to break boundaries presented by exclusion, ideologies and stereotypes, just to simply achieve the equal rights that they deserve. A girl is more likely to be denied her rights, her voice, subjected to violence, forced child marriage, unequal domestic labour.

Think of the impact on society if girls didn’t face the barriers and discrimination they do now – if the entire of the population had an equal footing to invest in our society. Furthermore, by investing in a girl, we are also investing the future – we are also investing in her children, the future generation. We are investing in the wider society and economy.

But of course, we’re not just working to empower our rural communities and society in Tanzania, but also to ensure that every girl has their fundamental human rights that they deserve.

Female Genital Mutilation & Child Marriage

In 1998, Tanzania criminalised female genital mutilation (FGM) for women younger than 18. In fact, Tanzania has seen a decrease in FGM to about 10% in 2021 – but this number is still too high. Often, community leaders may pretend to abandon the practice, finding alternative rites of practice for girls, only to continue FGM in disguise. In fact, in some rural regions the percentage of women and girls having undergone FGM is much higher – some regions having a prevalence rate as high as 58%, with FGM prevalence twice as high in rural areas than in urban areas.

Once girls have undergone FGM they are deemed for marriage, even as a child. On average, one in three girls in Tanzania is married before they turn 18. In rural areas, some girls are married as young as 11 to a husband that can be up to three or four times her age. Once a girl is married she will often be forced to leave to school so she can take care of her husband and have children of her own. Less than 1% if girls aged 15-19 are both married and in school. At such as young age giving birth can be life threatening, with some girls more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

Meet Neema, she was with us here at Hope escaping marriage at a young age. With the help of sponsorship, she has been able to extend her studies, building a career in tourism and is now working in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

Hope for Girls and Women was founded by one of our local Tanzanian representatives for Mara region, Rhobi Samwelly. Rhobi is an FGM survivor and activist dedicated to keeping girls safe and fighting for their rights.

Rhobi explains, “I grew up in a small village where girls were seen as commodities to exchange for cattle, I was cut and forced to marry against my will. I want to inspire girls to stand up for their rights to education, not to be cut, and to marry who they choose.

“I wanted girls to have the support in saying no, that I never had. To realise they can have control over their bodies and their lives.”

Rhobi went through a particularly traumatic experience when she was subjected to FGM. “I lost so much blood, I became unconscious. My family and neighbours started crying as they thought I was dying.”

Hope now runs two safe houses in the north of Tanzania, and cases include FGM/risk of FGM, gender-based violence (GBV), rape, child marriage, and orphans. The ages of the girls in our care ranges from infants through to teenagers. The number of girls increase dramatically during the cutting season, and no one is ever turned away.

How Can You Help?

You can help by supporting Hope’s work online and donating to help them house more girls to keep them safe, and so they can educate more communities on the harmful practice to prevent FGM from happening in the first place.

If you have some spare time, you can also join our online team of worldwide volunteers at Crowd2Map Tanzania to help end FGM. Girls fleeing FGM in rural Tanzania can come from very remote areas, some of which are not even on the map. People on the ground that are called to a potential risk of FGM can drive around for hours before they find her, in a situation where every second counts. By putting Tanzania on the map, we are helping keep our girls safe.

Access to Water

In too many areas of rural Tanzania communities have no access to clean and safe water. They will rely on natural resources such as ponds or streams that are often shared with animals. The water will be dirty, filled with waterborne diseases that will make people sick – but it will be the only water that is available and is needed for them to survive.

This severely impacts girls, as it is often the duty of the females to collect water along with other household duties – even if that’s a 5km walk to do so. As climate change and desertification takes its toll on the environment, water scarcity increases, which can increase the length of these walks, or even leaving the girls finding a dried-up stream after a long journey.

In too many areas of rural Tanzania communities have no access to clean and safe water. They will rely on natural resources such as ponds or streams that are often shared with animals. The water will be dirty, filled with waterborne diseases that will make people sick – but it will be the only water that is available and is needed for them to survive.

This severely impacts girls, as it is often the duty of the females to collect water along with other household duties – even if that’s a 5km walk to do so. As climate change and desertification takes its toll on the environment, water scarcity increases, which can increase the length of these walks, or even leaving the girls finding a dried-up stream after a long journey.

Benedicto Hosea is one of our local Tanzanian representatives for Kigoma rural. He founded a grassroots community non-profit organisation, Mboni ya Vijana, which has perfected a low-cost and effective technique of getting access to water to rural communities. It is a hard and laborious task of hand-drilling a borehole which can be up to 30 metres in the ground, making a water pump and installing it for the community. However, the organisation knows it’s worth it as the community will have access to clean and safe water all year round, and keeps girls in school, reducing just some of the inequalities that they face.

How Can You Help?

You can help our work by following and supporting both us and Mboni ya Vijana online. There are still so many schools and communities that are on our waiting list to be funded for a new water pump. With every bit of help – whether it’s following us across our social media platforms or sharing our work from our websites – you can help us increase our reach and support online. You can also help by joining in our water campaigns and donating!

Access to Education

FGM, child marriages and a lack of access to water impacts girls’ access to education. An education is the first step to empowerment – to a future where a girl can become whatever she dreams of being, to a future where we will no longer have to fight for basic rights of girls.

Furthermore, the economic progress we could make in society if every girl had the education that they deserved could be immense. Women with a primary education earn 14 to 19 percent more than women without one, whilst women with a secondary education earn almost twice as much as those with no education. 

Poverty is another barrier to education. School costs can be too high for some, leaving some girls having to drop out of school – such as Ancilla, Nicetha, Beatha, Grolia, and Anchila (right). However, thanks to our chicken project, these girls are back in school and the path to achieving their dreams!

Another barrier to girls’ education is the discrimination that they face. Girls who become pregnant – even by rape – forfeit their right to an education. They are expelled, unable to return to school – some are even disowned by their families.

Every girl deserves an education. Tumaini Open School, founded by our local Tanzanian representative Ezekiel Kassanga, is creating a safe space and stigma-free learning environment for such girls to continue their education.

We work closely with our partners PiXL International to improve the life chances of young people through the advancement of education. We are also delighted to partner with iamtheCODE and launch Wellbeing clubs in 14 schools, the first of its kind in Tanzania! These clubs are peer to peer community support groups aimed at improving the lives of vulnerable populations, especially young girls. Our clubs are run in rural government schools by their teachers using materials provided by iamthecode.  Groups also come together by zoom to share good practice and engage with mentors from all around the world. They also have access to inspiring podcasts from a wide variety of speakers and can participate in global events such as for International Day of the Girl. We are starting with Wellbeing clubs and then hope to move to Digital clubs!

Educate a girl, empower the world. Education is the first step to a more equal and prosperous world. #ThisGirlCan

How Can You Help?

You can help us by supporting our work online.  Tumaini Open School has a new website and social media that will appreciate your support! By sharing our work and projects (including our chicken project!) you can help us reach more people and spread our message.

You can also donate to our projects as well as Tumaini Open School’s work to help us all ensure more girls get the education that they deserve in rural Tanzania. Furthermore, as the schools we work with have very limited technology, your donation makes a huge difference in the quality of education and learning materials, too. Having funded projectors in three more schools, they are now using them, linked to teacher’s laptops, so that for the first time students and their teachers can watch films, science practicals, and engage in zoom collaborations. As very few students have ever visited a cinema, or have a tv at home, and in service training for teachers is almost non-existent – this is a game changer

Girls are Changemakers.

The amount of pressures, discrimination, barriers, dangers and inequalities that girls face in Tanzania on a daily basis is shocking. The resistance and fight to change the narrative not only for themselves but for future girls is awe-inspiring.

We are working tirelessly to ensure that every girl in rural Tanzania is safe and has their fundamental human rights, to empower every girl – whether they want to stay in school, not have to walk 3 hours for water, to not be a child bride, but to be a lawyer, a teacher, a doctor…

This Girl Can