Girls are being denied their basic rights every day. They’re being robbed of their dignity, removed from their classrooms, or placed in violent and dangerous situations. When families face economic hardship, it’s often women and girls who suffer disproportionately.
But girls are also the key to ending poverty.
When women and girls have an equal part in development, we see a positive ripple effect across their families, communities and nations. We’re sharing stories from five incredible girls we have the privilege of knowing, who are overcoming the issues poverty places in their paths, thanks to the support of their local churches.
Meet the unstoppable girls who are defying the odds.
1) Shanti, fighting for education, Bangladesh
15-year-old Shanti belongs to one of Bangladesh’s largest indigenous minority groups. One of the greatest challenges children like Shanti face is that the Chakma people mainly speak their own tribal language rather than the majority language, Bengali. This puts children from this group at a disadvantage in the educational system, where only Bengali is spoken.
Children from the Chakma group tend to drop out of school to join their family in agricultural labour which perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
With a passion for her studies, Shanti has accomplished something unheard of in her community: she’s trilingual, understanding not only Chakma, but also Bengali and English.
Shanti has broken the mould for girls, thanks to the invaluable support she’s receiving from her Compassion sponsor, who provides her with books, school uniform and tuition fees through their monthly donations.
Thanks to this support, Shanti is able to give back to her community, by tutoring her neighbour’s children for free. “I like to teach them, since it allows me to expand and practice what I know. It also helps me develop my teaching skills. My goal when I complete my education is to become an excellent teacher.”
2) Florence, taking a stand against FGM, Kenya
Florence Lomariwo’s lifelong crusade against FGM started with her own narrow escape.
When she turned nine, she learnt that she was to undergo FGM, then be married. “An old man had approached my family to arrange a marriage with me,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be married, so I ran away and lived with well-wishers, who supported my desire to complete my education and make something of myself.”
Her determination paid off. After finishing secondary school, Florence enrolled in a teacher training college, and later graduated with a degree in education. She then married the man of her own choice — a privilege few women her age knew. This gave Florence the credentials and platform she needed to effect change.
Today, Florence runs a school and rescue centre for girls who escaped FGM and early marriage.
Through Florence’s dedication and hard work, Chemolingot Primary School is home to more than 150 young girls, who have been rescued from FGM and early marriage. Among the girls who have found refuge at the primary school in the past, 11 are currently attending public universities and colleges, and 49 are attending various high schools around the country.
In 2016, Florence’s church, African Inland Church Chemolingot, partnered with Compassion to launch a project and register children into the sponsorship programme. Today, 252 children gather every Saturday at the local church to participate in different activities and lessons.
As part of these Compassion project activities, Florence is helping ensure the children in her community receive ongoing education about their rights. She is also making sure parents are provided with training about the dangers of FGM.
3) Noojee, tackling child marriage and bridal kidnapping, Thailand
“I didn’t want to marry him, but it’s tradition,” Chompuu says. At only 13, she was another victim of the age-old custom of bride kidnapping.
Bride kidnapping and child marriage are common among Chompuu’s people, the Hmong. According to tradition, a male can abduct a girl and lock her in a room, after which he can claim her as his bride.
17-year-old Noojee, also from Chompuu’s Hmong village in Thailand’s northern hill country, is living a different life. She is unmarried, and she is pursuing an education.
The difference in Noojee’s life is largely attributed to her local church’s partnership with the Compassion Child Sponsorship Programme.
Noojee’s parents are subsistence farmers, and live in the same house with six other families in their clan. The families share their earnings equally with the others. “It was quite a challenge when Noojee was first registered in the programme,” recalls Lursak SaeJang, the director of the project. “Her family had the typical mindset that girls don’t need education and must remain at home to serve the family.”
But when Noojee’s father witnessed the transformation in his daughter, who was becoming a strong and courageous person through the influence of the church and its Compassion programme, he decided to take the family to church. Over time, the whole family placed their faith in God.
“In my community, there are so many expectations on me because I am a girl,” says Noojee. “But I am so thankful that my family are Christians, and that my parents support me in going to school.”
4) Monica, fighting against child labour, Tanzania
Seventeen-year-old Monica and her 15-year-old sister, Esther, are best friends. They grew up doing everything together. They went to school together, did chores together and even wore each other’s clothes.
The sisters live in a small mud hut in the remote village of Mvumi in Tanzania. Their parents, Stephano and Pendo, are subsistence farmers and work on a small piece of land. Putting food on the table was a daily struggle for Stephano and Pendo, let alone covering other necessities.
With no other choice, Stephano and Pendo decided to pull their youngest daughter Esther out of school, and send her to live with an aunt to work as a maid.
Monica was able to stay in school thanks to her Compassion sponsor. Through sponsorship, Monica’s school fees and supplies were covered, and she was able to finish primary school. When Monica failed to achieve the grades for a secondary school place, her Compassion project enrolled her in a vocational course.
Today, Monica has a qualification in tailoring, which she is using to bring in an extra income for the family. Thanks to this support, Esther has come home and is reunited with her best friend — her big sister. Monica’s hope is that Esther will be able to participate in the same vocational training programme. She says, “I want my sister to take a tailoring class as I did. I think she would be good at it.”
5) Cleidy, overcoming disability prejudice, Guatemala
In Guatemala. Cleidy was born without hands, something that would have marginalised her if it hadn’t been for her tenacious spirit and the support of her local church.
Cleidy’s mother, ashamed of her daughter’s disability, abandoned her when she was three years old. From that day, Cleidy has lived with her grandmother, Victalina.
“I was sad about what my daughter thought of Cleidy and how she felt. I knew that because of her disability, it would be challenging to care for her. But I trusted in God,” Victalina recalls.
Believing in her granddaughter’s abilities, Victalina made a bold decision to move her to a local public school. “I knew it would be a big challenge to Cleidy because there were no resources to support her additional needs, and she would be treated like a child without limitations. Still, I believed it was a good idea because she is an exceptional girl,” says Victalina, with fierce pride in her voice.
As well as attending school, Cleidy is also part of church-based Compassion project. It turned out that most of her classmates were also church friends, and they were glad to help her with any difficulties that arose.
“I love my friends!” says Cleidy with shining eyes. “They are very helpful to me if I need anything. If I need a pencil, someone will give it to me. Or if I need extra help at home, someone helps me.”
Despite being born without hands, Cleidy has learnt to write thanks to Jamin, her tutor at the Compassion project. Thanks to his support, Cleidy discovered a love and a talent for writing, which has earnt her the title of best letter writer at her project.
“Every year, Cleidy wins
the prize because of her enthusiasm and the beauty of her writing, as well as
the colourful drawings she makes,” says Jamin. “I feel so proud of that.”
Thanks to the love and support of those around her, Cleidy is becoming the girl Victalina knew she could be – a girl with dreams, opportunities and a bright future.
Empower the next generation of unstoppable girls
Every day, poverty tries to cut a girl’s childhood short. It places barriers in front of her, stopping her achieving her full potential. It steals her hope and self-belief.
You can remove these barriers by sponsoring a girl. Through your support, you’ll ensure a Compassion-sponsored girl receives education, regular health check-ups, nutritional support, vocational training, and the love and support of the local church. Through your letters, you’ll also have the opportunity to speak words of hope and encouragement over her life.
Visit www.compassionuk.org today.