Teenage pregnancies remain a thorn in the flesh for the education sector in this country. And, from the look of things, no light is shinning at the end of the dark tunnel as thousands of schoolgirls' dreams continue being cut short.
It is never an easy walk for the girl child as, despite trying to grapple with realities of poverty and neglect, many of them have to endure the pressure from their body changes and that from men who will be on the prowl like a pride of hungry lions that have spotted a hapless kudu.
Besides this anomaly, girls are fast becoming an endangered species as they also face other challenges such as lack of confidence, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), poverty and neglect. It is against this background that a group of young ladies formed a group meant to make a difference in girls' lives.
Known as Hope 4 Young Girls Tanzania, the group provides the much needed dim light at the end of a very dark tunnel as it eyes changing lives of thousands of girls throughout the country. According to the group's Executive Director, Relations and Planning, Janet Mushi, the organization caters for schoolgirls from the age of 11 to 19.
And, it is aimed at changing their lives in order for them to become better people in life. "The group's activities revolve around three areas of Education, Health and Sports. We attract their attention through sports and we use games such as volleyball, tug of war, basketball and netball, just but to mention a few.
And, after these girls participate in these games, we gather them and teach them on various topics such as teenage pregnancies, STIs and HIV," she added. She also said that the group works hand in hand with teachers in various schools before they hold their functions.
Of which, at the end of the teaching session, they give the girls questionnaires which they answer and the student who scores the highest marks is automatically made the organisation's ambassador to the school.
The not for profit organisation which was an initiative of Salama Kikuda who is the Executive Director - Operations; Irene Dama, the Development Director; Janet Mush who is the Executive Director Relations and Planning and two other members, in June 2011, is headquartered in Mwenge.
According to Janet, the organization has grown from the five founding members to eight and is fronted by a group of schoolgirls from various schools known as Young Leaders, who are on the fore front of executing the activities. "We are working with a group of nine young leaders and our role is to organize for them to empower others.
We are using these young girls to educate others because it is easy for their colleagues to understand and emulate them. This also gives confidence to the girls," she said. "We decided to form this organization because we had seen that many girls' lives are jeopardised and they face many difficulties in their lives.
Elderly men are chasing after them and most of their dreams are plunged into uncertainty because they would have fallen pregnant." "Many girls, who wanted, for example to be doctors, never realize their dreams due to the problems. So, we educate them so that they know their rights and we provide the much needed friend and shoulder to lean on," said Janet adding that many parents fail to get time with their children.
According to her, most girls don't have someone to talk to hence they lose confidence when they face challenges. "We sensitize girls on dangers of teenage pregnancies for them to take precautions. We also appeal to parents to be close to their children. In fact, they should be friendly to their children as this will make it easier for them to know what is happening to their teenagers," Janet said.
She also highlighted that poverty is not the sole cause of the problems. "Even if the family is poor, if parents take time to talk to their children, they will know what is happening and therefore will be equipped to face any eventuality," she said. Hope 4 Young Girls Tanzania has so far conducted its activities in five schools where girls were enlightened.
The organization that operates in Dar es Salaam and Coast regions has changed the lives of school girls at Mwenge Primary School, Kenton High School and Mapambano Primary School, all in dare s Salaam, and Mloganzila Primary School in Kibaha, just but to mention these.
"Though we have made some inroads in our endeavours, we are still crippled by lack of finances and support. We are funding this initiative from our pockets and we are calling upon donors and well wishers to join hands with us in the fight against this social anomaly," Janet said, adding that because of financial constrains, the organization has failed to implement some of its plans such as printing and dishing out educational materials.
"We, leaders of the group together with the young leaders, need support and training... the training will make us more effective," said Janet. The group has plans to recruit members and volunteers while at the same time start girls' clubs in schools with the ambassadors leading them. Besides talking to the girls, knowing their problems with the aim of solving them the group also visits girl children in hospitals who are suffering from different ailments.
"So far, the group visited Muhimbili National Hospital and talked to children suffering from different diseases. We encouraged them and gave them moral support besides helping them with their different needs. We recently helped a girl who was suffering from cancer," she said.
She added that the girl, who was admitted to the hospital, had no money but had a letter under her pillow which she had intended to use for begging. "As an organization, we took the copy of the letter and used it to raise funds for the girl. We even used our facebook page to post the letter so that well wishers could see it and help. So we managed to raise some money and got clothes, food etc and we handed them over to them.
The girl's situation is made worse by the fact that the mother is at home as she is having a small baby to take care of while the father is now suffering from a mental disease," explained Janet. According to her, the organization has big dreams such as widening to all parts of the country including rural areas, complete the establishment of their website and print educational materials that will help them spread their word.
"We want to give hope to young girls especially when it comes to education. We also plan to have a special day when we will honour girls, countrywide, who would have performed well during their national final examinations," said Janet. She said this will encourage the girls to work harder knowing that the community appreciates their achievements.