In a school playing-field outside Musanze in Rwanda’s volcano-dotted Northern Province, a circle of girls in handmade wooden glasses and headdresses are dancing, passing around energetic high-fives and chanting ‘arasobanutse’, ‘she’s smart’ in Kinyarwanda, the local language in Rwanda. It is a lively introduction to 12+, a safe space programme that I was lucky enough to visit at the beginning of last year. The programme is run by Girl Effect and works to help vulnerable 10-12 year old girls across Rwanda become more informed decision makers.
Inside a classroom in the school, girls gather in a circle before their mentor arrives. Their faces light up when she enters the room. This week’s session is a recap of what they have learnt over the past two months, which covers sensitive issues like sexual violence and reproductive rights.
After discussion and games, the girls are asked about their ambitions for the futures. One wants to become a teacher, another a journalist. At the end, a young girl named Ruth stands up, her handmade glasses resting on the end of her nose. She proudly states: “I want to be the next president”, a poignant end to the hour-long session.
At the end of the session the girl’s rush outside to grab the latest issue of Ni Nyampinga, which means ‘the beautiful girl – inside and out – who makes good decisions’, Rwanda’s first youth brand made for girls, by girls.
Despite Rwanda’s scoring high on political representation, many girls still spend up to 12 hours every week collecting water and firewood, in addition to their schoolwork. They have little time for anything else, and few female role models to follow. Ni Nympaniga is helping to change that, offering new skills and advice on education, sexual health and violence through a quarterly magazine, radio show and mobile app. The brand currently reaches and impressive of 500,000 girls between the ages of the 10 and 19, and during a recent survey, 66% of girls who have read the magazine said it has influenced their confidence to a great extent.
Some of the journalists and radio hosts were recording a show with some of the girls on the day of our visit. The excitement was infectious. Nicole Isimbi, twenty, and Jacqueline Uwamariya, twenty-three, were two members of the team. They told me: “Through Ni Nyampinga we encourage adolescent girls to have fun, to feel free – to not see those years as bad or stopping them exercising their rights.” Nicole added: “We’re helping to give girls the information they need and we can see from their messages that we’re helping to change their lives. Our generation is going to deliver a huge amount; we’re going to make a big change.”
As we drive back to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, the following day, I hear a familiar voice on the radio. It’s Nicole presenting her latest show in Kinyarwanda. I turn to our driver to ask what is being discussed. He laughs and says “yes there is now a radio show for the young girls”. One of whom might just become president!