From the outset, our aim was to support marginalised girls to enrol, continue their quality learning, sustain their livelihoods and help them transition to higher levels of education and better opportunities. I believe the combination of activities and integrated approach that we used to achieve this aim is why the project has been successful.
The enrolment (and sometimes re-enrolment) of 7,380 out-of-school girls was probably the most impactful element of the project. However, the peer mentoring approach is also likely to have a significant long-term impact. Girls who were mentored by Big Sisters and peer group leaders are now part of the network themselves, offering their support and understanding and passing on their knowledge. The mentoring support, along with the girls’ clubs which offered information on child protection and their rights, have developed the girls’ confidence levels and understanding about their lives. Local government have developed new child protection policies in support of our project and, importantly, parents are more engaged in their children’s learning.
The pandemic definitely presented us with our biggest challenges. Maintaining contact with the girls and offering counselling and psychosocial support became a priority. We mobilised community volunteers and project teams to ensure every girl was reached, safe and secure during the pandemic. We started doing this via the schools, but they were not all prepared and did not have all the contact details for the children. Nonetheless, the teams persevered and did reach all of the girls. We also struggled to continue our teacher professional development during this period as we had to pivot to a remote model and our evidence found that this was less effective than face-to-face delivery due to teachers not being familiar with online learning and having to deal with connectivity issues.
Over the course of the programme, we developed good working relationship and partnership with each level of government, through local and federal memorandums of understanding. At the local level, we fostered important policy dialogue on child protection and Complaint Response Mechanisms (CRM) and at the federal level we supported policy development and provided technical support on institutionalising the Girls and Inclusive Education Network (GIEN) under the leadership of government. The government have started to replicate and scale the learning from our project, with a specific focus on GIEN throughout the country, extending working relationships with VSO and other likeminded organisations.
Being part of the wider Girls’ Education Challenge programme helped to strengthen our our organisational capacity. Policies and guidelines – on safeguarding for example – have been incorporated into our wider work. Importantly, some of the learning and concepts from Sisters for Sisters’ Education, including community volunteer and Big Sister’s engagement, and formation and mobilisation of community volunteers network, have been used to inform and shape other VSO’s education projects.
If I could offer advice to other implementers based on our experience, I would say:
The project initiatives under the English and Digital for Girls' Education (EDGE) programme were successful in mobilising peer group leaders through developing English and digital skills along with social competencies. They have contributed significantly to the replication of these skills for other school children and the dissemination of learning resources for enhancing quality of learning. Likewise, the project is also able to mainstream all the learning materials developed under EDGE interventions through the government portal.
In terms of our project’s legacy, I believe the community volunteer networks we have helped to create will have a long-lasting footprint and will be continued by local government and community groups. In addition, ‘our’ girls have grown up. They are now ठूलीदिदी "Thuli Didi" meaning Big Sister and are recognised as a change agent to transform their respective communities. They have gained knowledge and experience that will stay within the community.
On a personal level, I have taken lessons from this project which I am feeding into other work, replicating some of the elements into other project designs. I am proud that we have developed our own capacity but also that of government partners, local partners and like-minded organisations by sharing knowledge and evidence with other organisations and agencies for the benefit of the most vulnerable and marginalised girls.
Further resources from the Sisters for Sisters' Education project:
Case study: Meet Durga: A Big Sister with a huge impact
Case study: My Big Sister prevented me from marrying at 14
External evaluation: Endline report