FQ Collection: Unlocked
When Sabina closes her eyes at night...
she can hear the wind rustling the leaves of the trees next to her house. Outside her window, the sky stretches on, and on, and on above the rice paddies. When the wind stops, it’s quiet.
But Sabina knows that “quiet” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Right now, a girl could be silently crossing the border from Nepal to India, accompanied by a man she barely knows. She’s not screaming, or being dragged against her will. She thinks she’s on her way to a good job, or an education is waiting for her. But the reality is far worse.
One of the scariest things about trafficking is that you don’t realize you’re a victim until it’s too late. Girls are told they’re helping their families by getting a job to help pay the bills, or seizing a good opportunity to go to school. They don’t know these promises are lies until they get across the border, in a new country where they don’t speak the language, with a stranger. Then, they’re at the trafficker’s mercy.
Sabina thinks about the girl from her village who was taken. She might have been walking right by these rice paddies when she met the man she shouldn’t have trusted. She just didn’t know any better.
More than 8,000 girls and women are trafficked across the border between India and Nepal each year, not far from where Sabina lives.
Sabina believes she can help to rescue more girls, or even prevent them from ever being kidnapped in the first place. The secret is knowledge.
“If we can educate girls on trafficking, we can prevent them from being trafficked,” Sabina says. “Then, they can educate the younger generation.”
Sabina heard about trafficking in her girls’ club, supported by Plan. She and her friends learned how traffickers operate, and how they lure girls away from their families — and not in ways you might expect. In Nepal, as in many places around the world, women are just as likely to be traffickers as men, and they might use social media to find their prey. Sometimes, the traffickers are even members of a girl’s own family.
When Nepal’s government began reorganizing to give local communities more power, Sabina saw an opportunity. She joined forces with her friend Sarita, petitioning their mayor to create a new public awareness campaign aimed at educating girls on the risks of trafficking. They asked Plan to help them get as many people to support their effort as possible.
That was at the beginning of June 2018. Just two months later, they had gathered more than 46,000 signatures. At the end of July, Sabina handed the petition over to the mayor, who agreed to fund their awareness campaign.
“It’s an incredible feeling to know so many people around the world are behind us and really care,” Sabina said.
Facing the terrible reality of trafficking, Sabina and her friend have done the impossible: they have given us hope.
When Angélica closes her eyes at night,
she hears rain falling on the metal roof. It’s almost always raining in the mountains of Guatemala where she lives. She’s gotten used to taking in the wet, fresh smell of the earth with every breath.
Her cell phone on the bed next to her is silent — cell service is spotty all the way up here in Alta Verapáz. Angélica might have to go into town, or find a tall hill, to check her messages or make a call. But that doesn’t matter. What’s more important is the item in her lap: a workbook.
The book’s cover is labeled “Tu Idea de Negocio” (Your Business Idea). Decorated in blue and yellow, with a cartoon of a young woman, the book is full of Angélica’s plans for her new business. There are a few more just like it on the floor next to her, with catchy titles like “Tu Espíritu Emprendedor” (Your Entrepreneurial Spirit). They’re her stepping stones to a new future.
Angélica never thought she’d start a business. Girls in her community aren’t raised to become entrepreneurs. Many Q’eqchi girls like Angélica drop out of school because they’re needed to help at home. The local school is sometimes too far away, or the family can’t afford to pay for transportation or school supplies.
And besides, indigenous women in Guatemala don’t usually work outside the home. Instead, they are raised to become wives and mothers, learning to cook and clean and take care of children. Men are the breadwinners.
At the same time, Angélica thinks she can do more. Why can’t she be a business owner and a mom?
Since joining a Plan-sponsored Entrepreneurship Club in her community, Angélica is starting to learn how she can make that dream a reality. And, she’s made friends through the club, who can hold her accountable to her goals and serve as a sounding board for new ideas.
Like Angélica, most of the club members are young, indigenous women from the Q’eqchi group of Mayan descent. Many dropped out of school, and come from families that make less than 1,000 quetzales ($128 USD) a month.
“I never thought I’d get the chance to be part of a club like this,” Angélica says.
Angélica and her fellow club members told Plan there’s one reason in particular that they’re so excited and motivated to become entrepreneurs: their community has a paved road. In many rural areas in Guatemala, houses are spread out and isolated, and the dirt paths connecting them can become slippery with rain or blocked by flooding. Roads are not always finished, making it difficult for pedestrians or small cars to pass. For the young entrepreneurs, the paved road means access to potential new customers driving by. That’s a selling point Plan can use to encourage similar communities to start up their own projects.
Angélica is thankful for the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship. When she closes her eyes, she can imagine herself in charge of a thriving business, making enough money to feed her family. If she is a mother, she’ll have enough to send her children to school. That’s the kind of ripple effect Angélica’s success will create; she’ll help herself, her family, and her community.
When Diarata closes her eyes at night,
she can hear the goats bleating. They roam around outside, free, until their owners herd them into their shelter to sleep. Their hooves kick up dust on the dirt road. Rural Senegal is dry and hot; everything here is covered with a thin layer of fine, red dirt.
Sometimes, Diarata hears the wheels of a boy’s bicycle spin through the dirt, or the soft clicking when he stops pedaling. It has to be a boy’s bike, or a man’s — girls and women don’t go out after dark. It’s simply too dangerous.
Even staying late after school isn’t worth risking harassment, or worse. Diarata has heard stories about the bad things that happen to girls who leave home after nightfall. Her parents have heard them, too. So, unlike her brothers, she stays inside.
Diarata knows that her parents just want the best for her. They want to keep her safe, so she can grow up and marry a good man who will provide for her. That’s the dream for a traditional Senegalese woman.
But, Diarata wants to dream bigger. Rather than marry young, she wants to wait, and get an education. Someday, she’ll be a professional woman, as well as a mother and a wife.
In Senegal, that’s a tall order. In order to preserve a girl’s innocence (and virginity), families often arrange a marriage when the future bride and groom are as young as 6 or 7. The girl is “promised” to the boy, and her family begins to pay the dowry over the years. It’s a deal that gets harder and harder to get out of. Every installment the bride’s family pays is money they can’t get back. Once the boy is ready to marry, the girl will drop out of school. Doing household chores, cooking, and eventually, taking care of children won’t leave her any extra time to study.
About one in three girls in Senegal marries before she turns 18, which means her marriage will almost certainly replace her education. But girls who marry before they turn 18 are also far more likely to become pregnant before their 18th birthday, something their young bodies aren’t ready for. In fact, the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 around the world is complications from pregnancy and childbirth — a horrific truth. Child brides are also more likely to contract HIV and other STDs, give birth to children who die within their first year of life and experience domestic violence.
If Diarata wants to take a different path, she’ll need to find a way to broach the subject with her parents. As Plan creates girls’ education programming in Senegal, that’s something we hear a lot. Girls feel comfortable with and close to their mothers — but not when it comes to talking about marriage or sex. As a result, they can’t have a real conversation about their futures and why they don’t want to get married. They stay silent, and end up leaving school to become wives, not the professional women they dream of.
Plan’s programs in Senegal help girls talk to their parents about these difficult but fundamental issues. They learn the facts about marrying young, and support each other with ideas on how to communicate with their parents. And, Plan programs help train parents (and mothers specifically) on how to communicate with their daughters, as well as what child marriage actually means for young girls.
Think about what Diarata could do if she got the chance to finish school. She might become a doctor, or an engineer, or start her own business. She might grow up to lead the team that cures cancer, or stops global warming. Imagine what we’re missing without girls like Diarata at the table.
When Flor closes her eyes at night,
she hears the pounding bass of someone’s reggaetón music in the distance. It doesn’t matter; it won’t keep her awake. She’s exhausted, after spending the day helping her mother with never-ending household chores.
Flor has more responsibilities at home than most of her friends. Of her parents’ 13 children, she is the only daughter, and the youngest. Six of her brothers left El Salvador to find work in the United States. The other six help their father on the cattle farm, leaving Flor and her mother to take care of the house. Cleaning, preparing meals, and washing dishes and clothes for nine people — it’s a big job for a 10 year old.
This type of upbringing might set up other Salvadoran girls for a more traditional future, dropping out of school and having children. But not Flor.
When a new Plan program called Champions of Change came to her community promoting gender equality, she knew she wanted in. She loved the idea of a project that encouraged boys to change the way they interacted with girls. There was just one problem: the minimum age to participate was 12 years old. At the time, Flor was only 10.
But she didn’t give up. Flor and her friends kept showing up to meetings for participants. They enlisted the help of parents and teachers, and asked the facilitator to make an exception.
Eventually, it seemed easier to let the girls participate than to keep turning them away. They were allowed to attend one meeting, as a trial — and Flor and her friends did not disappoint.
They engaged wholeheartedly in group discussions, and showed real enthusiasm for the topics. Flor was inspired.
“Something in me changed,” she says. “I wanted to change the reality of the girls and women of my country.”
Flor learned about the extent of the violence in El Salvador.
She lives in the murder capital of the world. People have stopped trying to explain the machismo that’s tearing the country apart; they say that’s just the way it is.
But Flor has hope that things can change. Today, she’s a Champions of Change facilitator, leading discussions with other young people about the violence they face and what they can do about it. She partners with a male Champions of Change graduate, modeling how girls and boys can work together toward gender equality.
“To me, it’s very important to be a voice for other girls, because it means I’m drawing attention to our situation,” Flor says. “But I also believe that we need boys on our team, so we can empower girls and women together and eliminate stereotypes.”
Flor is still tired when she closes her eyes at night. But she also feels something else: determination. Because, when she wakes up the next morning, she knows she’ll have another chance to change things for the better.
When Gugulethu closes her eyes at night,
she can hear the quiet noise of Zimbabwe’s wilderness around her. It’s comforting — the bellowing of the elephants in the distance, and the sounds of the deer-like impalas fighting, knocking their long horns into one another. The insects in her grandmother’s fields hum their simple evening song underneath it all.
Gugu sleeps covered in a blanket, on top of a woven straw mat on the floor. Once she curls up next to her four siblings, it doesn’t take long to fall asleep.
Gugu knows they don’t have much, but she’s happy. She’s 13 years old, and she loves her family and her friends. Life is good, and simple. She has no reason to think it will ever be any other way.
In the morning, it’s Gugu’s job to fetch water from the well, and heat it up over a fire for everyone else to bathe. She has to go early, so that her grandmother and her siblings have time to wash. While everyone else is sleeping, she tiptoes outside with her bucket. You wouldn’t guess from Gugu’s ever-present smile that she is an orphan. Both her parents died when she was young, so her grandmother took her in. It’s not easy with five children and just one breadwinner; her grandmother stretches every cent she makes as a peasant farmer so that the children can go to school and grow up healthy.
After her bath, Gugu puts on her school uniform: a purple dress, with a khaki collar, and buttons down the front. She pulls on her backpack, and starts the walk to school with her siblings. From a distance, you can see their little heads bobbing through the tall grass. Gugu’s backpack is almost bigger than she is.
Gugu lights up when she talks about school. Her favorite subject is English, and she practices new words like “family” and “sleep” whenever she can. She wants to grow up to be a nurse, so she can help other people.
To Gugu, the world is whole. She doesn’t see the fractures from war or violence, or how inequality skews the balance of everything. She doesn’t know just how many obstacles will block the road to achieving her dreams simply because she is a girl.
But through Plan’s programming, the reality for so many girls like Gugu is changing. Through a global community of supporters, more and more girls are getting the chance to go to school and pull themselves out of poverty. When they don’t have to worry about the dangers of violence like sexual assault and trafficking, they’re set free; when a girl’s life changes, she can change the world.
When Soaad closes her eyes at night,
she hears the rumblings of Cairo. Stray dogs bark at motorcycles zooming by, and a plastic bottle clatters down the dirt road. There is always trash, everywhere. The air is smoky with the smell of shawarma from the small cafe down the street.
Men shout to each other across the street. Sometimes they’re just talking, joking around, and laughing. Sometimes they get into fights, yelling and pushing each other around. And when a girl walks by, you know it.
Their words turn ugly. It becomes a contest to see who can get a reaction out of her before she fades from sight. They describe how she looks, what they want to do to her, and they howl with laughter.
Soaad is only 14, but she has already experienced the harassment. Almost every Egyptian woman endures it daily. Some people even believe that women who leave the house should know better; by going out, they’re asking to be harassed. And nothing is worse for a young woman’s marriage prospects than getting that kind of reputation.
Some things have changed in Egypt after the revolution, but not gender roles. In fact, some parents force their daughters to drop out of school, for fear they will be harassed on the way there.
“They say it’s better for us to stay at home and help our mothers, instead of wasting their money on an education we’ll never use,” Soaad says.
But Soaad thinks they’re looking at it backwards. Parents are pulling their daughters out of school because it’s too dangerous to get there. What if they worked to make the streets safer, so their daughters could go to school?
“I have the right to an education,” Soaad says proudly. “I shouldn’t give up that right because it’s dangerous. When I grow up, my education will benefit my community. If I go to school, I could become a police officer. Could I do that if I didn’t have an education? No way!”
Through Plan’s Safer Cities for Girls program, Soaad and girls like her practice how to advocate for their rights. In her neighborhood girls’ club, Soaad learns self-defense skills. She and her fellow Safer Cities participants have even worked with Plan staff to make the project better. Today, because of participant suggestions, Safer Cities includes “sports days” where boys and girls play soccer together — something that would never happen otherwise.
“When I first told my parents I was going to play football with boys, they said I couldn’t, because I’m a girl and they were worried someone would touch my body while we were playing,” Soaad says. “I kept trying to persuade them, though, telling them it was my right to play, and not always be afraid. Finally, they agreed!”
Now, Soaad and her friends are working to change people’s minds about what girls can do in their community.
“I used to feel like I was in a prison, while boys were free,” Soaad says. “But now, I want to tackle these issues so that girls don’t have to be afraid anymore.”