- Grade: 12th
- School: Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA
- Location: Mbabane, Swaziland
Ella is a high school student who moved from the United States in 2013 to Swaziland where her mother is serving as a doctor for the Peace Corps. She became interested in Girl Rising in 2016 after a screening at the U.S. Embassy in Mbabane. Inspired, Ella went on to organize a “Girl Rising Week” at her school, which included a screening of the film, and facilitated conversations around a range of issues related to gender equality and female empowerment. The week was such a success that Ella decided to form a club, BraveGirl, to keep the momentum going! Since then, BraveGirl has gone on to partner with numerous schools in Mbabane, Swaziland, and is in the process of planning a week-long sleep away camp for 50 girls.
What was it about Girl Rising that inspired you to take action? I was awed by the way in which Girl Rising was filmed and truly inspired by its call to action. Alongside this, I had begun feeling as though my school was in need of awareness surrounding gender inequality issues.
How did you feel when you first learned that you were moving to Swaziland? As your mom is serving, did you ever think that you would serve communities in Swaziland as well? When I heard we were moving to Swaziland, I was horrified. My thirteen-year-old self, I valued my club soccer team over anything else. So when I heard that I could not continue with soccer as seriously there, I was seriously disappointed.
I think I always knew I would serve communities in Swaziland. However, I never knew to what extent or with what project. I am a strong believer in being wholly committed to what I am doing and so when people ask me why BraveGirl wasn’t started earlier, it was because I had to be sure of what I was going to do, and how. I also wanted to know the community well enough before embarking on a journey that specifically concerned them. I think this decision has proven to be correct, as the connections I’ve made, and the awareness I have gained, of Swazi culture, have really allowed our goal to be realized in a better way.
Can you tell me a bit more about the workshops organized during your "Girl-Rising Week"? How were they structured? What was the main audience take away? Did your school community design them yourselves? The week was designed holistically, as to empower the entire woman. We split our curriculum into four “concentrations”: Health, Relationships, Career empowerment, and Swazi Society + Beyond. The camp was five days long and so each day focused on a different issue area through a combination of workshops that are facilitated by outside experts in that particular field and activities are run by counselors. The counselors of our camp are all Swazi National Committee Students who grew up in Swaziland but attended a UWC high School in another country.
The curriculum we developed was quite comprehensive thanks to the array of people who have provided input, including counselors, government officials, doctors, and local NGOs. We know that we are young and so we really try our hardest to seek advice and information from experienced people as much as we can. However, for many of the games and fun evenings, we (the students) enjoy getting to put our spin on things!
Did you find it challenging to partner with other schools in the Mbabane area? If yes, how? If no, why do you think your project was well received? It was not very difficult to partner with other schools in Swaziland because we were able to offer a completely free program. Although we did require the schools to help facilitate meetings and question sessions at their schools, we tried our best to make it as easy as possible for them to participate.
Because of this, our project was well received. At one school, when we arrived, everyone was cheering so loudly we could barely explain the camp! Besides from it being free, when we go to a school, we play some games at the start. It gets a smile on everyone’s faces and makes the presentation less formal. Also, our team is very energetic. We are always laughing and joking around with the girls. I think it gives a good indication to our prospective campers that their week will be really fun!
What type of challenges do you focus on in your Brave Girl program? Can you share any details about the upcoming workshops/programming that you're most looking forward to? I think the biggest challenges really come from our internal organization. Because we are student-run, we have a big problem with many of our members not being Swazi. As our intention is to ensure our participants have the best experience, we often have to have internal reviews where we are checking and re-checking everything with the members of our team from Swaziland.
I am most looking forward to the upcoming "job interview speed dating" day that BraveGirl has organized. This workshop is exactly what it sounds like. We will line up about 25 desks and each camper will be interviewed by their fellow camper. After five minutes, everyone switches. Afterwards, we will discuss what were the best strategies and what didn’t work so well. I think it will be very fun because it will be so lively and everyone involved in the camp will be in one room.
We often hear the question "Why girls? What about the boys?" Why, to you, is supporting girl's empowerment and equality an important issue? To me, the answer is quite simple. In Swaziland, the balance is most definitely in favor of men. Although I do believe that empowering men is necessary too, change cannot happen unless women themselves believe they of are equal importance as men. To look at it from a more practical perspective, BraveGirl would ideally like to have a branch for men’s empowerment as well. However, we can only afford to support girls at the moment. I think of it as if you could wave a magic wand to make anything happen and you could only wave it once, wouldn’t you rather have all the girls in the world understand that they deserve equal treatment rather than the men be empowered to tell the women they are as deserving?
What have you personally learned through this process? I personally have learned that the more I understand what I can do, the better it is for the project. I always say that it is our job at BraveGirl to connect deserving girls with information and opportunity. Understanding that our job is to connect has been a learning experience for all of our team.