The Ambassadors Against Child program was conceived in 2018 by Women Advocacy Project and the Advocacy Project Peace Fellow at the time, Alex Kotowski. The goals of the program are to utilize the power of young women to mentor other more vulnerable girls and explain the risks of early marriage to their families and communities. It is the hope that the ripple effect of education and empowerment can spread beyond a group into a community, and eventually beyond into an entire society.
Since the program’s inception, four girls were selected and received rigorous training, and have been carrying out their duties and responsibilities since December 2018. All four have been leading their weekly club meetings based on the “Give Us Books Not Husbands” curriculum, and holding open counseling sessions for girls at risk of getting married. The clubs are safe spaces for the Ambassador and her peers to have open discussions about the issues facing girls and to provide information that can help keep girls healthy and out of marriage. A key responsibility for the Ambassador is also to hold an open line of communication with WAP to raise an alert immediately if a girl is identified as being in danger of forced marriage or experiencing abuse. Club membership ranges between 25 and 45, for a total of about 135 girls.
Since coming to Harare, I have been lucky enough to spend some time with these amazing young women, and to learn a bit more about how they have been impacted by the WAP program. Not only have all of the Ambassadors learned about the issues causing child marriage and how they can help their communities face these challenges, but they also report having a better understanding of Zimbabwean/human rights law, sexual and reproductive health, youth activism, free and affordable health referrals, leadership and peer mentorship. It is truly amazing to see the confidence and expertise that has arisen in these four young women. And their views of the future have also been impacted. Crammed into the backseat of WAP’s pickup truck, bumping along potholed streets to different site visits, I surveyed each Ambassador. One of the questions I asked was for the girls to describe how being a part of this program has changed her life and her prospects for the future:
Trish (Ambassador for Epworth): In the future, I will know everything about this particular issue and how it relates to my own life. In my life, I want to equip young girls with these skills and I am also interested in business.
Evelyn (Ambassador for Chitungwiza): This has motivated me to do something in my life for myself and for my future apart from being married. Marriage isn’t the only option for me. This will also help me be a good parent. One of the things causing child marriage is irresponsible parents, so I want to be a strong mother.
Yeukai (Ambassador for Mbare): I have a desire to work towards changing culture and traditions around marriage. I hope to write a book about marriage, and how girls were prevented from childhood marriage culturally.
Ashley (Ambassador for Waterfalls): My life has been changed by this program, and I have learned how to better stand up for myself.
Since this program began and since these clubs have started, WAP has not had a single report of any girls getting married, getting pregnant or being involved in illicit activities. With the four Ambassadors working in the communities and the club members being empowered through this education, it is no wonder the program has seen such success. And as WAP looks towards the future of its programming, two more Ambassadors will be selected this year to expand the work into other communities. You can read more about the Ambassadors program here.
In addition to this extensive education and empowerment work, WAP will seek to expand into income-generating and economic-empowerment programming this year. Through the month of July, I will be raising funds for a pilot liquid soapmaking program through Global Giving – please keep an eye out for that campaign when it becomes active!