ONE hundred young girls from Mabvuku and Tafara waited with bated breath as the inaugural graduation ceremony kicked off.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
Resplendent in their best dresses, they poised on the threshold of a bright future, armed with their new qualification.
Trained in various disciplines, including construction, brick and block laying and clothing, they now have an opportunity to improve their circumstances.
Selected from among orphaned, low-income families with little education, the girls are part of Lafarge’s community initiative, Shine Simuka Upenye Empower programme, designed to improve the livelihoods of young women from Mabvuku and Tafara as well as surrounding areas.
Launched in 2017, the initiative was triggered by a spate of baby-dumping and abortion cases in and around the Lafarge Site.
A closer inspection into the issue revealed that the vice mainly befell young orphan girls who had little or no education, and had either resorted to prostitution or had become vulnerable to unsafe sexual behaviours.
“It broke my heart to hear of the cases of abortion and baby dumping that had become common in this community. I know it is not easy for a woman to make such a decision,” Lafarge former chief executive officer Amal Tantawy said.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, she said the sad scenario had galvanised them into action.
“This, for me, was a sign that there was a huge need in the community among young women. It was a cry for help,” she said.
Tantawy said when they launched the initiative, their vision was to create a programme that would empower the girls socially and economically.
“By so doing, they would become mature and responsible adults, who, in turn, could influence positive change among their peers and in their communities,” she said.
Structured on four intervention pillars — mentorship, vocational training, business development and life skills coaching — the programme is aimed at economically empowering young vulnerable women in communities.
“Simuka Upenye has helped these 100 girls change the course of their lives. They now demonstrate that there is hope and reason to have a brighter future,” Tantawy said.
It also aims at ensuring that the girls get access to quality education such as vocational training as well as life skills training and mentorship.
This empowering initiative is critical in closing the gender gap between men and women in Zimbabwe through affording the girl child an opportunity to become economically independent.
So how do they select the girls?
The process is a combined effort with other stakeholders such as the department of social welfare.
The girls have to meet the criterion which is very specific; the girls have to come from a very low-income family, orphaned, little or no education and willing to take up an opportunity to improve their circumstances.
To prove this, comprehensive background checks are undertaken to establish other deep-seated needs for every individual.
Once enrolled, the 100 girls are paired with mentors drawn from a pool of influential women from various backgrounds.
These serve to provide guidance, inspiration and hold the girls to account while they remain on the programme.
Lafarge’s new chief executive officer, Kaziwe Kalule, said the programme had provided an opportunity for the vulnerable girls to change their course of lives through a multifaceted programme.
“It (programme) aims to empower the girl child to make better life choice, become more eligible for decent employment and be better placed to positively influence their communities and families,” he said.
Kalule urged the girls to forge ahead with a new purpose in life to serve others.
“If you use this opportunity wisely, the end of this programme is the beginning of the next level for your development. Continue to be hungry for greatness,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the partners include the Mabvuku Social Services and Mavambo Orphan Care Trust.
The two proffered technical support in selecting the girls and collecting the necessary baseline data.
The United Nations Population Fund and the International Labour Organisation are also some of the collaborating partners and play an advisory role as well as support in life skills training.
Then there are also training partners like Women’s University in Africa, Harare Polytechnic College and Msasa Industrial Training College.