Ethiopian girls build self-confidence, leadership skills through educational program

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UGIRLS2, Ethiopia. Cuso International

“The life skills training has allowed me to believe in myself, that I can be a leader.” – Lelise

Lelise Abeya_Ethiopia

Lelise Abeya U-GIRLS 2 program Ethiopia

Struggling to balance attending school and supporting her mother, Lelise was ready to give up.

The Grade 12 student at Assosa Secondary School in the Benishangul Gumuz region of Ethiopia lives alone with her mother and has no other family support. Exhausted from long days of attending school and working as a maid to support her mother, she often thought of abandoning her studies.

“I would always be tired when I got to school after work,” says Lelise. “There were times I didn’t even go to school because there was just too much work.”

Lelise thought about getting married at an early age, giving her a chance to break free from her stressful life. However, she knew that getting married so young, without finishing school, would possibly expose her to gender-based violence. She knew this was a risky and dangerous path to take, but at times, it seemed like the only option.

Fate had other plans. Lelise was introduced to Cuso’s U-Girls 2 program and enrolled, and today considers it one of the best decisions she ever made.

Launched in 2019, U-GIRLS 2 provides young girls and women with resources, trainings, and a financial stipend so they can focus on their studies. The program also provides gender sensitivity training to families and community leaders, including teachers, with the overarching goal of changing attitudes and promoting equity by dismantling existing roadblocks to higher education for women.

Through the program, Lelise received leadership skills training, educational materials, a uniform, and shoes. She looked and felt like a student, which inspired her to continue her education.

The program’s monthly stipend allowed her to spend less time working as a maid, and more time in the classroom. “I used to spend four days a week at work; now I spend two days a week at work and the rest of the time I’m in school,” says Lelise. “This has benefitted me a lot.”

But it was not just money and time Lelise was lacking. She was shy and often afraid to express herself. She lacked the self-confidence to go after what she wanted.

It was only after Lelise received leadership and life skills trainings, as well as English lessons and reproductive health training, that she began to value herself.

“The life skills training allowed me to believe in myself and believe that I can be a leader,” says Lelise. “I can be anything I want. This program has helped us to not become a generation that easily gives in to excuses.”

She was also moved by an organized visit to a local university, which she says was deeply inspiring. Lelise met current students who shared how they overcame personal challenges on their path to higher education.

Lelise now sees herself as free. She dreams of going to university, graduating, starting a career, and helping young girls who, like she once did, struggle to stay in school.

Over the past year, 400 girls and women in the Benishangul Gumuz region, like Lelise, have received the academic resources, training and tutorials, and stipend through U-GIRLS 2. The project works in partnership with the Benishangul Gumuz Regional Education Bureau and five secondary schools, along with the Institute of International Education.