With another journey under my belt I find myself in Sawla and, I have to admit, I love this place! It is my second visit and already I have a good feeling, the girls here are incredible, they work hard and are determined to be somebody. When we arrive the girls are all in class, the local authority has sent some health professionals to talk to them about safe sex, hygiene and pregnancy. The head teacher apologises as they only called last night to say they were coming, I tell her not to worry and instead tell me how things are going at the centre.
The headmistress tells me that the centre is going well but the dorms are overcrowded, there are insufficient resources and teachers. COCO’s assistance in the provision of 4 looms for the girls to weave on and materials for practical tailoring and tie and dye lessons are appreciated. The head tells me that girls are excelling in dress making, ICT, catering, textiles and hairdressing. They all work hard and any students who do not are given strict instructions to improve; the headmistress clearly runs a tight ship! We talk some more about plans for the future and then I am asked to address the girls who have now finished their sexual health talk.
I walk into the packed classroom, there must be over 200 girls crammed in here. As soon as I walk in, they burst into song, a familiar tune, their school welcome song for visitors. Once they finish I am asked to introduce myself and say what I am doing here: I always hate this bit. Nevertheless I tell the girls I am really keen to talk to them about how things are going at the centre and how the equipment COCO funded has helped. I ask for volunteers to take part in interviews this afternoon and lots of hands go up, the head mistress asks the form tutors to organise them under the tree ready to chat to me. I am really impressed at the willingness for the teachers to let me talk to the girls alone without supervision, this means there’ll be less chance of the teachers making sure the girls only tell me the good things.
The focus groups do not disappoint, the girls confide in me more than I anticipated, telling me how the locals call them a derogatory name meaning “old maid” because they are all studying vocational skills for which there is no upward age limit and they have missed out on secondary school and or college, not to mention marrying young and having babies. It is these stereotypes that hurt the girls but seem to make them very strong. They long to travel so that new people and influences can come into their lives and they talk to me of becoming fashion designers and succeeding in life where their parents did not I feel I’m amongst girls who will – regardless of the odds – make something of their lives.