My Skills, My Money, My Brighter Future in Zimbabwe
For this assessment, CRS chose to closely examine three economic strengthening approaches used in the project —vocational training and Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) being implemented by ORAP, and Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) implemented by ASAP—and to determine how effective they were in helping
girls overcome barriers to their economic empowerment. The reasons for acquiring this knowledge were three-fold:
To strengthen and inform future economic strengthening programming initiatives and ensure they make positive contributions in the livelihood development of adolescent girls.
To inform policymakers and donors about the importance of designing funding mechanisms that support not only the immediate needs of vulnerable adolescent girls for social services, but also contribute to their growth and development in a sustainable way.
To encourage program designers, implementers, donors, and policymakers to address the specific needs of adolescent girls in programs targeting vulnerable youth, rather than use a broad-based approach that treats vulnerable adolescents as a homogenous group.
Documenting the experiences of young women like Sithandazile helped inform this assessment, as did data collected through group discussions and key informant interviews with adolescent female and male program participants, program graduates, caregivers, community volunteers, as well as CRS and partner staff. The assessment focused on discerning which program elements were especially helpful to adolescent girls and which needed to be strengthened without compromising a program’s ability to help all vulnerable adolescents.
Key Findings and Recommendations
By design, programming for vulnerable children and adolescents recognizes that children and adolescents have a multitude of needs, necessitating a holistic package of services to maximize program benefits. Key findings from the assessment suggest that a combination of economic strengthening activities with life skills education, sexual and reproductive health education in line with Catholic teachings (i.e. the human reproductive system, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV transmission, pregnancy, gender-based violence, and fighting stigma and discrimination), psychosocial support, and child-rights education provided adolescent girls with not only critical skills needed to earn a living, but decision-making skills they used to make informed decisions about their lives. Many
of the girls, their caregivers, and project staff attributed their newfound confidence and increased self-esteem to participation in the combination of these interventions.
In addition, girls were exposed to positive female role models through mentors such as female agricultural extension agents and/or former program graduates. Equally important, the girls developed relationships with their peers in a safe and supportive environment. These safe spaces allowed girls to discuss and explore issues of concern to them, a valuable form of psychosocial support.
Although participation in vocational training can be beneficial on its own, the economic environment in Zimbabwe necessitated a combination of strategies to maintain a sustainable livelihood. ORAP’s approach combined vocational training with the development of agricultural skills using the JFFLS approach. This allowed the girls to improve
their family’s nutrition and earn income through the vegetable sales. This combined vocational training and JFFLS approach proved to be a promising model that could be strengthened through the addition of financial education, business skills development, and access to basic financial services.
ASAP’s approach focused on providing training in Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) to out-of-school or those at risk of being out-of-school adolescents. They combined SILC activities with psychosocial support, life skills education, and sexual and reproductive health education in line with Catholic teachings. SILC participation enabled many participants to pay their school fees and stay in school. It also fostered an entrepreneurial spirit among participants, provided leadership opportunities for adolescent girls, and increased confidence, self-esteem and a sense of empowerment.
During interviews and discussions, most girls felt the program had been helpful to them. In fact, many expressed a strong desire to help other girls facing similar circumstances. The assessment team met with many young women who successfully transitioned out of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program into sustainable livelihoods; however, long-term impact data on project graduates was unavailable.