The Gambella region of Ethiopia, a fertile and remote area with a population of 300,000, faces many social and economic woes — widespread poverty, high HIV infection rates, ethnic tensions and more. The area is one the poorest places in the world, making it one of the most challenging — but potentially rewarding — environments for CCL programs.

It’s here that the Center is working to leverage the so-called Girl Effect to create permanent social changes in Gambella’s center, Gambella town, in the hopes that it will empower residents to make positive changes throughout the community.

The Human Knot exercise inspires participants to attack challenges that seem overwhelming.
The Human Knot exercise inspires participants to attack challenges that seem overwhelming.

In poor countries, educating adolescent girls, keeping them healthy and delaying pregnancy delivers huge economic returns — an impact dubbed the Girl Effect. Through education, women end up earning more money, staying healthier and having fewer children. In the process, they can dramatically strengthen the economies of the poorest countries of the world.

“What our team really wants to do is look at the most underserved populations in the world,” says Steadman Harrison, CCL’s regional director, Africa. “How can we help the underserved and the people who are most frequently looked over?”

Mentoring to Bring Change

In Gambella, girls frequently leave school early, get pregnant young (often outside of marriage) and are especially vulnerable to HIV. These trends are exacerbated by a breakdown in traditional intergenerational relationships and by a society that marginalizes women. CCL aims to change this through a mentoring program that will directly reach about 10 percent of Gambella town’s female population, a tipping point that then allows new behaviors and beliefs to ripple through the whole population. In Gambella town, CCL will eventually train more than 4,500 young women to hit that tipping point.

CCL’s three-day program boosts self-confidence and self-awareness in the young women, creates a stronger community and re-establishes intergenerational relationships. On the first day, five “master mentors” go through training that teaches self-awareness, teamwork, problem-solving and other core leadership skills. On day two, each master mentor brings 10 mentors to the training. And on day three, each mentor brings five young women mentees.

As of August 2012, the program had trained more than 3,500 women. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) extended its funding through February 2013.

The Impact of Training

The program is already changing individual lives. Take Nya Met, for instance, a 16-year-old girl who entered the program as a mentee. Nya loves school, but her situation has made it difficult for her to pursue it as she’d like. At 15, to appease her parents, she married a man they selected for her. To satisfy him, she quickly got pregnant, making it unlikely she’ll continue formal schooling.

But Nya says the CCL training has given her hope and helped her realize that she can still make choices about her own future. The CCL staff was so impressed by her enthusiasm and skill that she was chosen as a facilitator for future trainings.

“That forever changes the lives of the people living in that community,” Harrison says. They start to bring up the next generation of women who believe in themselves and who believe they can create better lives for those around them.”

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