This post was written by Chhavi Sharma, Lifeline Energy’s Project Manager, after a recent trip to Burundi.
Last week I visited Burundi in the Great Lakes region of East Africa for a village savings and loans project in which our Lifeline radios will play a role. Targeted at adolescents girls aged 14-22, this project seeks to provide financial literacy, sexual and reproductive health, human rights and essential life skills information to enable girls to make informed choices and decisions to ensure their economic and social well-being – critical skills if you live in one of the poorest countries in the world. The project will have a radio component to supplement face-to-face training, as educational programming is being developed and Lifeline radios procured to distribute to the girls in the interactive Solidarity Groups.
Georgette, a 20-year-old I spoke to in Gitega province, said she had joined her group of 30 girls to learn how to save money, manage her finances efficiently and escape her misery. A secondary school drop-out, she was unable to complete her education as she began suffering from weak eyesight, a direct result of studying by the fire at night. So often my colleagues and I hear heartbreaking stories like this – and of how candles and kerosene have damaged people’s eyesight.
A mother of two young children at the age of 19, Irene in a slum outside Bujumbura echoed Georgette’s sentiments. She said she wants to get into the habit of saving money regularly to expand her small business – buying palm oil and reselling it at a higher price – and providing for her children. She presently lives with her parents, who help with living costs. Irene is excited that the girls in her group get together every week to talk about the problems they face in their day-to-day lives.
Georgette, Irene and the other girls I met were particularly interested in receiving Lifeline radios, as they will provide dependable access to programming especially created for them and their needs. In addition to reviewing savings and loans principles for the girls, the broadcasts will introduce these concepts to their families and larger communities, thereby increasing support and acceptance of the project. Discussions around the programmes will also help solidify relationships within the Solidarity Groups and ensure that the girls strive together for a more promising future.