20 February 2014: A School-based Club Empowers Boys and Girls to Speak Out!
By Sabine Brandenburg
Iniho ward, Makete district, Njombe region, United Republic of Tanzania, 20 February 2014
“Our fellow students have a lot of respect for Roger. And I just like being around and helping out other students. That’s why Roger and I were chosen as Secretary and Chairperson of the TUSEME Club at our school”, says Tumzo Sanga, 10 years old, a student of the Iniho primary school.
TUSEME is a Swahili phrase that means “Let’s Speak out!”. It is a school-based girls’ and boys’ empowerment programme that allows primary schools students in peer clubs to discuss topics that would be hard to bring about at home, yet are essential for their future. Through the clubs, children also acquire life skills necessary for them to deal positively and effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They also learn about sexual and reproductive health, the dangers of HIV and how to avoid its transmission. In addition, the clubs aim to boost gender equality by showing girls they can be leaders in activities traditionally performed by boys.
UNICEF supports these school-based empowerment peer clubs in 12 districts throughout Tanzania. More than 27,000 boys and girls from those districts are guided by their teachers to speak out on issues that concern them. The Government has expanded this project to five more districts, and also announced intent to scale it up nation-wide.
Tulimbumonu Sanga, a mentor at Iniho primary school’s TUSEME Club, believes the Club is making a powerful impact on children. “We heard about the TUSEME Clubs through another primary school. For that reason we requested more information and assistance to set up a club at our school as well. Eventually, I went on a two-day training to learn how to coach students to speak out and empower themselves. We established the TUSEME Club in our school in January this year. There are 66 members so far, all are standard 5 and 6 students.”
Teachers' involvement is of paramount importance because of their role in the process of improving students' performance and their well-being. Tulimbumonu has empowered her students to take leadership in the design and implementation of TUSEME Club activities. “We are there to act as mentors to guide, monitor and facilitate discussions,” she says with a smile.
Reducing gender gaps
TUSEME Clubs are a forum for boys and girls to come together, interact and support each other through the challenges they may face, particularly those issues that may prevent or disrupt their education, like early pregnancy. In Tanzania, girls have one in four chances of being pregnant or having a child by the age of 18.
“Every Monday we sit together for one hour. Last Monday, we discussed the consequences of early pregnancy. I am now aware that girls are allowed to return to school after giving birth,” says Tumzo. “And I feel free and more confident to speak out loud. At the TUSEME Club, we support and help each other; boys and girls! I was not used to this in the past,” says Roger.
Roger raises an interesting point. Overall, girls are more likely to drop out of school and to perform poorly than boys. The reasons for drop-out and under-performance are a mix of economic, social and cultural barriers. They also include push-out factors related to the school environment that may not be conducive to learning.
To empower girls to understand and overcome problems that hinder their academic and social development, girls are encouraged to think critically and creatively, to communicate effectively, to build healthy relationships and to cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and productive manner.
Theater for development
TUSEME school clubs also raise awareness of critical issues in the community during village meetings and other forums in the schools such as parent-teacher meetings and graduation days. Students also engage in drama classes, an entertaining and activity which at the same time allows them to deliver key messages. As parents and the community at large are usually invited to attend the performances, these are meant to reflect some of the issues that came out of TUSEME process.
“This club is very important for our school and our community. The attendance rate in standard 5 and 6 classes has improved. I have noticed that girls especially perform better and are more involved. In class, boys and girls sit together, which was not a practice before. I am confident that the TUSEME Club will help children gain even more confidence and grow to their full potential,” says Tulimbumonu.
UNICEF Tanzania and its partners will continue to promote girls’ education through the clubs in targeted regions, districts and schools on the country programme. “We are hopeful TUSEME Clubs can influence other schools for meaningful impact. It is time we equip and strengthen young girls’ and boys’ skills to turn the tide against HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy and school dropout through prevention and through initiatives that recognise their value in society”, says Cecilia Baldeh, Head of UNICEF Tanzania’s Education programme.