Maria is 16 year old girl with bright eager eyes that portray her determination and courage. Though her posture was upright and her smile was bright, she carried a past that no one her age should ever experience.Originally from Iringa, her parents sold her off at a young age to a man who was twice her age. After years of abuse and hardship she was was able to escape to Dar es Salaam, only to be become a common prostitute in the crowded streets of Sinza.
Her story, though horrific in nature, was not unfamiliar to the other 30 young ladies who live with her at New Hope for Girls in Tabata. The organization which has recently received significant media recognition was founded by a bold woman called, Consola Eliya, who is a survivor of similar challenges in her youth. The NGO takes in and supports vulnerable girls and marginalized young women who have gone through mistreatment, sexual abuse, forced marriage, abandonment and domestic abuse. She and her husband have taken in 31 girls in their home and welcome many more walk ins through the center for help or advice.
It was a hot Saturday morning when we arrived at the center. Our initial aspiration for the day was to host a huge fundraising event sponsored by large companies and where we would give our proceeds to the center. Considering the current economic climate, that dream did not necessarily go as planned. So we were faced with two options; cancel the event completely – or show up empty handed!
Since we had no monetary capacity to carry out our original idea, we decided to give what we have: knowledge and experience. As young women and professionals in our late 20’s we have been employed and self employed and gone through the ups and downs women normally go through. From battling insecurities, to overcoming self worth issues, to CV writing and applying jobs – the list is endless.
The concept of arriving with no monetary or physical aid is usually counter culture. The whole concept of community outreach or corporate social responsibility in a culture accustomed to foreign aid is that a real donation is supposed to be “tangible”. It is rare to hear praise for individuals who have given their time to transfer intangible knowledge or skills to others. Possibly because these skills are not physically seen and their benefits are hard to measure.
These intangible skills however are of incomparable value! Confidence, self-drive, boldness, taking initiative, adaptability – all soft skills that are not taught at school or universities but are crucial to entering and surviving in the job market. Looking back, these are the things I wish I had been taught at school but life taught me the hard way.
Everyone has something to offer. Experience in any sector or field, can and should be shared with the next generation. As we prepared for the sessions we focused on skills are helpful for young people. We divided the teams into different age groups and interacted with them on a level they would understand. Girls over 16 years of age gained knowledge on CV writing and self branding, while the younger girls did a series of exercises and games that taught about boldness, self-encouragement and self-awareness.
Young professionals have so much knowledge they can share. The simple ability to write a CV should not be taken for granted. Simply sharing your story on how you have persevered through various trials in life or at work has the power to enlighten and change the course of a young person. Imagine if you were taught as a teenager, that self-presentation and confident communication were more or as important as the grades on your CV – wouldn’t that have saved you time and effort?
I believe the reason why many young professionals do not involve themselves in more community projects is not because they do not have time, but because they have not realised how valuable their life experiences can be to someone else. For example, if you are an IT Engineer, you can open up the minds of young people on the diverse fields of employment and self employment available with the simple use of a laptop and internet. Expanding the minds of young people to the possibilities available in the market, even for two hours, can have an everlasting impact in their lives.
After spending three hours at the center and sharing lunch with the girls, we thanked Consola and took our leave. Maria was one of the girls who walked us out, she kept glancing at her loosely drafted CV we had worked on together during the group discussion. I have no idea what she was thinking; maybe she was contemplating how she could improve it or listing in her mind all the companies she will one day attempt to apply to. I don’t know, but one thing is certain, she had gained gems of knowledge that have instilled confidence within her.
Find out more about the work of New Hope for Girls, visit http://www.newhopeforgirls.org/