GUINEA-BISSAU – October 29 2021 A tale of girl power Text and picture by Elca Cardoso Pereira 13-year-old Apili is one of the only girls in her community that attends school. The seventh grader is determined to create a good life for herself. At 13, Apili is in the seventh grade: the first year of high school. This is quite unusual as most girls lag behind in Guinea-Bissau, especially in remote communities where they have to stay at home to help their families. “I know the only way I can become everything I need to be is through my studies”, says Apili. At school, she excels in social education, maths and Portuguese. Math formulas don’t scare her. She can easily memorize verbs in Portuguese, and she enjoys learning about society, laws and children’s rights. When asked about what topic she prefers in her social education class, patriarchy strikes an unshakeable chord. “The weight of an entire household should not fall on the man’s shoulders,” says Apili with her fist in the air. “I don’t understand why it has to be that way. If both parents work and share decisions, I think the situation of many families would be better.” “The government should also focus more on children because there are many families in need who don’t necessarily have the means of providing for their children. Things used to be different here at home before my family joined the SOS family strengthening program. At times we didn’t have a lot to eat or money to buy school supplies. But every child should be able to go to school even if their parents have no money.” “All girls should be given the opportunity to attend school,” says Apili adamantly. “If the girls get to study and achieve steady jobs, they will have more power at home. Not just with money, but with respect too.” “Since our family joined the SOS family strengthening program, it is easier to enroll children in school and buy them school supplies. Thanks to the credit saving group and the extra support, we now can afford it,” says Apili’s father, Felisberto, who has eleven more dependants, from nephews to grandchildren. The youngest, Simaira* has just turned one. “Before this program, I couldn’t afford to feed everyone, pay for our medical expenses and keep them in school. Now, I’m happy to see them go to school every day and know that I don’t have to worry about the fees. These are guaranteed," Felisberto says. “My father encourages me to further pursue my education. He wants me to finish high school and go to university. I would be the first in our family to do so. We’ve never had enough money to pay for it, but we hope that our financial situation will improve enough so that we can go further,” says Apili. “If I become a doctor or a public servant, I will earn enough to improve my family’s life, and this will encourage my younger siblings to do the same and aim for the stars." *Names changed to protect the child’s privacy.