Meeting our partners at AGAPE Shinyanga

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As new members of the MoMEC team, today we met with our partners at AGAPE Aids Control Programme (AACP) in Shinyanga to further understand how MoMEC is supporting AACP in the great work that they do for victims of forced child marriage.

Based on the outskirts of Shinyanga, AACP proved a little tricky to find. Thanks to the persistence of our taxi driver and a few bumpy ‘short cuts’, we were welcomed at AACP by the executive director John Josephat Myola and the programme co-ordinator, Deozawadi Valerian Marandu.

On speaking with John and Deozawadi, we were struck by the breadth of work undertaken by AACP, as well as the innovative and effective methods that they employ within the community to educate people on human rights violations. AACP was originally established in Shinyanga in 2006 with the aim of preventing and controlling the incidence of HIV/AIDS and its effects on the community. However, upon witnessing the prevalence of human rights violations in the Shinyanga region, AACP have since widened their focus. Currently, AACP’s charter also covers; (i) Child and Youth Protection; (ii) Legal Aid Services Provision and (iii) Prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV), Child marriages and Pregnancies. These issues are intrinsically linked and a motivating factor in MoMEC’s decision to partner with AACP to specifically support victims of forced child marriage.

John and Deozawadi outlined the factors present in Shinyanga and within local tribes that contribute to the high prevalence of child marriage in this area (Shinyanga has highest incidence of forced child marriage in Tanzania). Some families do not place a value on education for their daughters believing it a waste of money, meaning most married girls in Shinyanga do not receive a full secondary school education.

Added to the complexity of this issue, many schools in Tanzania have a zero tolerance policy on student pregnancies, a hotly debated school policy that the Department of Education has yet to lawfully ban. This means that those girl students, who were forced into marriage and then become pregnant, suffer the further slight of being kicked out of school. This drastically limits their chances of earning a living wage which drives the poverty-stricken culture that instigates child marriage. But the suffering that girl brides endure may not stop there. Research conducted by AACP has shown that of the girls they have rescued; 86% have experienced physical violence during their married life. What’s more, some husbands evict their young brides and children after a number of years, choosing to marry (young brides) again. Homeless and in need of shelter, abandoned girl brides and their children often turn to her parents for support, increasing the number of mouths to feed and negating what little financial incentive those few cattle brought some years back.

AACP’s Community Strategy to eliminate the practice of child marriage

AACP uses a number of strategies to identify those at risk as well as placing a significant amount of time and effort into educating communities in the bid to instigate cultural change and social reform. This is a relentless fight against long established cultural practices and beliefs which are extremely difficult to change. In their arsenal of educational weaponry, AACP use strategies and forums such as public movie sessions, live drama, role playing and training workshops to educate parents, teachers and village elders on the wrongs of forced child marriage. These approaches initiate dialogue with the communities, and give victims of the practice information on how and where to seek help. This is further cemented by AACPs strategy to train and establish representatives at village, ward and district levels within rural areas. This enables locals to act as community advocates for child welfare, changing beliefs from within communities and ensuring long-term sustainability of AACP’s endeavours.

The Agape Knowledge Open School for girl victims of child marriage

In parallel with community education strategies, Agape and its partners also identify victims of child marriage and support their reintroduction into formal education, vocational programmes or help them engage in Income Generating Activities. This programme is currently supported by a two year grant from Terres des Hommes, Netherlands for their “Stop Child Marriages” campaign. Conscious of the long-term plan and the future of the programme, Agape continually search for funding and grant to maintain their services whilst relying heavily on volunteers to help run the organization.

Keen to see more, John and Deoziwadi gave us a site tour of some of their facilities; namely the Agape Knowledge Open School and hostel for their students. First stop, the hostel; a small building which is home for 56 previously abused girls, 31 of which are rescued victims of child marriage. Girls sleep in triple bunk beds, in close quarters. The girls walk from their hostel to the AGAPE school where they engage in a full day of classes. Due to the limited amount of building space, classes are held under the canopy outside (pictured). John and Deoziwadi admit that the current facilities are far from perfect, but a full education outside is better than a future without one. However, the Agape school and hostel buildings do not belong to the organization – they are hired. Due to their limited funds, AACP don’t currently have the capital to build their own school and hostel to accommodate the increasing number of girl brides looking for help. Between a rock and a hard place, AACP are using their limited funds and resources to hire their school and hostel grounds, alongside paying teachers’ salaries and purchasing educational materials. This is a growing concern for the organisation who place great importance on the sustainability of their projects. Recently, they acquired a ten-acre plot from the government; and so the quest to find the funds and materials to build a school and hostel complex has started in earnest to ensure the longevity of their important work.

John and Deozawadi tell us they have a village meeting to attend – community education strategy 101. Saying our goodbyes and promising to keep in contact through the MoMEC-AACP partnership, we are suitably impressed by the professionalism and breadth of projects the organization undertakes with such limited resources and manpower.

MoMEC are active supporters of the AACP “Stop Child Marriages” programme, and in particular, direct our support and funds towards those girl victims of child marriage who are returning to education. Our aim is to support more child brides in the Agape programme through partial profits earned from our DVD sales of our educational movie ‘Chozi La Binti Kibena’ (available to buy now) and donations made to our organization.

We at MoMEC are proud to partner with AACP to help empower young girls to say ‘No’ to child marriage and ‘Yes’ to a future of equal opportunity. If you have been struck by reading about Agape’s great work and want to sponsor a child bride’s education through the Agape programme, click here NOW.

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