The groups that meet in the communities utilize the same format as those in our residential home: The participants receive an open space in which girls of various ages can boost their self-esteem, build a supportive network of peers, and gain information on healthy habits that will help them be more successful in the future.
Workshops cover a wide range of topics, such as reproductive health, women’s rights, goal setting, self-esteem, decision making, conflict resolution, relationships, communication, and personal identity. There, they can be themselves, learn, and express their opinions and concerns free from judgment.
While the program serves a similar purpose both within NPH and in its nearby communities, there are some key differences. For starters, girls living in the communities tend to have less access to information. They also receive stronger cultural messages that reinforce strict gender roles, resulting in a general lack of confidence and a decrease in the likelihood that they will seek out better educational and economic opportunities.
Coupled with prevalent rates of teen-pregnancy, sexual abuse, and domestic violence, girls’ living in these communities are at higher levels of risk compared to girls their age in other countries. That’s why our community groups focus heavily on education, and work to give their participants a platform to speak about the issues that concern them.
“You hear about families preferring boys because they are more useful than girls, or that because you’re a woman you can’t do the job of a man…,” says Marta,* 16, who joined the Mata de Platano group in 2015.
Going on four years strong with Chicas Poderosas, Marta uses the tools that she’s learned during weekly meetings to jump over the gender gap and work on her personal development.
The program is “an opportunity that they’re giving us to learn and improve. Over there you go and learn…and I learned things that I never knew about myself,” she says with a smile.
While she is still figuring out who she is, she’s paving the way towards becoming the person she wants to be… which includes working as an agricultural engineer.
Her academic studies through an NPH scholarship, paired with her personal education in Chicas Poderosas, are helping her take her first steps to getting there. She sees a future for the program and sees the situation of girls like her improving. And like a true leader, not only does she want to put what she’s learned into practice, but she also hopes to share the knowledge with others.
*Names of minors changed to protect their privacy.