Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescent Girls
The Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) programme started in 2008 and is already making a difference in the lives of vulnerable Ugandan teenage girls and young women. Organised into 690 clubs for 13 to 22 year olds, the programme provides a safe place for them to socialise and take part in group activities as well as a forum for life-skills training. Many of the older members who are out of school have taken training in income-generating skills. Near the end of 2009, some began receiving microfinance loans and have launched their own businesses.
The ELA programme has used the life-skills course themes in developing 10 storybooks for use in the clubs as teaching tools. The stories are based on recent life accounts from the girls themselves which we asked them to share or life experiences of those in their society and write them down. Their writing was later used as interactive stories to discuss at clubs.
We began livelihood trainings on a pilot basis in 2008 and continued into early 2009 with 530 older adolescents choosing an area of specialisation from agriculture, poultry rearing, tailoring, hairdressing and trading services.
BRAC began training adolescent leaders and club members in financial literacy starting in December 2009. The focus is on key components of financial management, including savings, budgeting, financial services, financial negotiation and earning money.
While life-skills training and financial development are important elements of ELA, so are fun and games in the clubs. The girls enjoy playing outdoor sports, such as netball and soccer, and indoor games like chess and Monopoly. They also entertain each other with singing, dancing and drama. In 2009, we began cultural activity competitions to develop their skills and talent, encourage socialisation and build confidence. Competitions got under way at the club level and are planned to be taken to the national level.
BRAC’s programme for adolescents is designed to socially and financially empower youth aged between 13 and 22. Currently targeted exclusively at vulnerable teenage girls, the programme combines innovative livelihood and life-skills training with a customised microfinance programme.
ELA services are provided through dedicated clubs that offer a safe, non-threatening environment for adolescent girls. The girls are able to freely socialise and share each other’s experiences, as well as find support for dealing with personal challenges. The clubs act as both social spaces, where girls can win positive recognition from their peers, and training venues for skills development courses. Each club organises daily team sports, such as netball, as well as dancing and other recreational pursuits.
The clubs and the training courses are run and managed by the adolescents themselves. Two girls from each club are selected and trained by BRAC supervisors to be adolescent leaders. They have to be at least 19 years old. These leaders are responsible for management of all the clubs’ activities and conducting the training courses. Training for the leaders covers facilitation and life skills and is provided through:
- Six days basic training
- Six days training on conducting life-skills training
- One day refreshers (bi-monthly)
- One day orientation
- One day refresher for life-skills training
Life Skills Training Course
The life skills training course is offered to all the girls attending the clubs. The goal of the training is to equip adolescents with the necessary knowledge and skills to improve their lives and to prevent early marriage. The objectives of this course are:
- To coach adolescent girls to be conscious, conscientious and confident citizens
- To raise their awareness of relevant social issues such as gender imbalance, early marriage and drug addiction
- To enhance understanding of general health, hygiene, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health
- To develop leadership skills
- To develop negotiation and conflict resolution skills
Income Generation Skills Training
Older girls, who are out of school, are able to choose a training course in one income generation activity that is of interest to them. As many of the centres are in rural areas, the courses are mostly linked to agriculture. The following types of courses have proven to be beneficial and appropriate for girls entering into microfinance for the first time:
- Agriculture training on cultivating local crops
- Vegetable cultivation
- Poultry rearing
- Trading services
The courses are designed in the context of the local economies and we offer several options to each girl. In our experience, the adolescents are keen observers of market opportunities. They are given training on basic market analysis techniques and are encouraged to select a business that suits them. So BRAC has found that a lack of financial literacy is a constraint to adolescent empowerment. The adolescents also receive training in financial literacy before getting a loan. The three-day course includes savings, budgeting, financial services, financial negotiation and earning money.
Appropriately Designed Microfinance
The key differences between ELA and BRAC’s regular microfinance programme are the targeted age groups and the average loan size. The average loan size of ELA is much lower compared to a comparable loan cycle in the regular microfinance programme.
The unique features of the adolescent microfinance programme are:
- Credit officers who are female adolescents
- Smaller first loan sizes compared to adults
- 16 years is the minimum age for borrowers (in compliance with financial regulations)
We involve parents and guardians in the process of adolescent empowerment through parents meetings, mothers’ forums and workshops for community leaders. Much of the frustration faced by the adolescents is due to isolation and lack of adult understanding of the issues they face. Their parents and the communities in which they live may deliberately or subconsciously contribute to discrimination against girls and the violation of their rights. Given that the adults have often had little or no formal education themselves, they may not be fully aware of the causes and depth of the problems faced by adolescents.