Girls' and Women's Empowerment – April 7 2019 Empowering girls in Liberia through basketball An unforgettable summer of basketball, education and friendships: In the summer of 2018, University of Pennsylvania and SOS Liberia teamed up to help girls build skills and confidence. This weekend, March Madness is dominating television screens all over the country, with college basketball teams vying for the championship title… But did you know that SOS Children’s Villages participates in basketball, too? Through a grant called the Project for Peace, University of Pennsylvania students Princess Aghayere and Summer Kollie developed an exciting class project: Promoting Education And Cultivating Empowerment (P.E.A.C.E.) Vacation Basketball and Girls Empowerment Program. P.E.A.C.E. promotes leadership through basketball, tutoring and wellness workshops at SOS Children’s Villages Liberia. The idea for this innovative project stems from Princess’ and Summer’s own childhood experiences. Princess plays basketball for University of Pennsylvania: an activity she credits for building her confidence. As a child, she was shy and reserved, but she used basketball as a tool to develop leadership skills, social networking aptitude and teamwork. And Summer is originally from Liberia, and has worked with high school students as a mentor and to conduct public health workshops. What brought this project together? An SOS alumni from Ethiopia, Adamseged (Adam) Abebe, who attends the University of Pennsylvania program with Princess and Summer, connected them with SOS for an unprecedented adventure. Striving for equal opportunities Women and girls in Liberia have limited access to education, health care, property—and justice. Because civil war has ravaged Liberia in recent years, many women and girls missed out on receiving an education. In fact, only 60% of girls in Liberia finish primary school (compared to 71% of boys) and only 8% of women complete secondary school or higher (compared to 19% of men). For girls and women, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, poverty, low cultural emphasis on education for females and disempowerment directly impact their educational attainment. Boys in Liberia also tend to have more opportunities to participate in sports and extracurricular activities—and these activities provide an incentive for them to go to school. Sports teach kids skills like cooperation, leadership, perseverance and mental and emotional health. These are the building blocks of confidence, like Princess experienced through basketball… but girls rarely get to play. By introducing girls to basketball, the P.E.A.C.E. project grew girls’ confidence to help them realize they deserve an education, and that they can become leaders who promote peace in their communities. Empowering girls in Liberia: the P.E.A.C.E. program In collaboration with P.E.A.C.E, SOS Children's Villages Liberia implemented a summer vacation basketball and girls' empowerment program to address obstacles to female education in the country. Thirty adolescent girls attending junior and senior secondary levels from 15 schools around Monrovia participated. P.E.A.C.E. involved two critical components: 1) Personal development workshops and academic tutoring that empowered the girls to become responsible, contributing members of society; and 2) Basketball clinics that helped boost confidence, build morale and encourage girls to come to school and stay in school. Basketball courts were constructed with assistance and expertise of local people in Liberia and Inbound Africa, a nonprofit organization that renovates and builds sustainable basketball courts in Africa. The girls attended after-school basketball clinics to learn basic basketball skills. But by learning and playing together, they also learned cooperation, leadership, self-awareness and mental and physical strength, and they socialized and make new friends. The girls also benefited from four empowerment workshops in the P.E.A.C.E. program, which were run by Summer, Princess and SOS Liberia staff, with help from female university students who volunteered as part of the SMART Liberia organization. At the interactive workshops, the girls learned about critical topics like self-care, hygiene, sexual reproductive health and teen pregnancy prevention, as well as the importance of education, building career goals and remaining focused to achieve their dreams. The girls also received personal hygiene kits, books, school supplies, basketballs and jerseys. The final exciting element? During the last week of the program, P.E.A.C.E. held a community day where the girls invited family members and friends to showcase their skills during an exciting basketball tournament. This community day was not only fun for the children, but it engaged members of the community and raised awareness about female empowerment. P.E.A.C.E.: not just for a summer, but for the future Not only did the girls participate in basketball clinics and workshops, but they also took two educational excursions to inspire future career options. They visited the Liberian Senate—the highest lawmaking body in the Republic of Liberia—to learn about the legislative branch of government, as well as to the Liberia Coca-Cola Bottling Company to learn about the preparation of soft drinks. At the end of the P.E.A.C.E. program, the girls attended an official closing ceremony where they were awarded with certificates of completion. P.E.A.C.E. truly reached the community; stakeholders from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and members of other women-led organizations attended the closing event. And more girls could benefit over time. The team’s coach was presented with a basketball drills manual to enable the continuation of basketball trainings and to sustain the team for the future. Here’s to a summer of fun, education and empowerment! Please consider sponsoring a child in Liberia to give them a chance to build confidence, too.