Nigeria (MNN/WR) — A few years ago, Alice was helping a respected local youth leader with an errand when he locked her in a room and raped her.
At first Alice stayed quiet about the attack because she thought no one would take her word over this young man’s. “I was afraid that my father would not believe me,” Alice says. “I thought he would blame me or my mother for the attack.”
As Alice lived with this terrible secret, her feelings of worth and her drive to pursue her aspirations began to suffer. She was trapped in false shame and fearful silence.
Tragically, this is not an isolated case. In many low-income communities in Nigeria, young girls are at risk of abuse and oppression.
Cultural practices and traditions that devalue females make it especially difficult for these young women to speak up against injustices such as forced marriage and sexual assault. “In these cultures, some believe that females are to be seen and not heard,” explains David Tyokighir, World Renew’s Program Consultant in Nigeria. “This worldview has made many adolescent girls feel less valued and inferior in their homes and communities. Unfortunately, older men end up being respected and obeyed even when they are wrong.” Nigeria also has a growing HIV epidemic. Young people, in particular young women, are at high risk.
World Renew, in partnership the Beacon of Hope Initiative, is implementing a four-year project aimed at improving adolescent health and promoting gender justice. This “Protecting Adolescent Health and Rights” project, funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD), targets young people, their parents, and the community and religious leaders in 40 communities. One of the objectives is to empower participants to prevent and respond to sexual abuse cases more appropriately.
Peer-education is a critical part of this process. Through 310 adolescent health groups, World Renew and partners are enabling young men and women to learn about healthy behaviors and attitudes from their age mates. These “peer educators” are trained by World Renew to lead group discussions around a curriculum that focuses on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and how to speak up about injustices. So far, 3,464 adolescents (1,039 males and 2,425 females) have participated.
Alice belongs to one of the 310 peer-education groups supported by World Renew and Beacon of Hope. When she joined the Protecting Adolescent Health and Rights project, she discovered that she didn’t have to deal with her trauma on her own. Lessons and discussions during the peer group sessions helped her become more aware of her rights. They also showed her that she was not the one at fault for her attack.
Alice opened up and bravely shared her story with a counselor. As a result, her perpetrator was eventually exposed and confronted.
Now Alice’s self-esteem has improved drastically, and she is receiving encouraging, life-changing support from her counselor, group, and family. Thankfully, Alice’s parents are also involved and are very supportive of their daughter; they have expressed their sincere gratitude for everyone who made this project possible.
Since World Renew is a Christian organization, the work is being done in an effort to be Jesus to these young girls. Pray that God will use this program to protect these girl and help them heal physically, as well as spiritually.
To learn more about World Renew’s gender justice projects, click here.