COVID-19 has required people across the globe to adapt to a new way of life in order to support our collective global health. So many interactions and situations where people gather together have either been put on pause or re-imagined. A group of young women in Sierra Leone found themselves and their peers out of school this spring. They didn’t have access to instruction or resources to continue their classroom studies due to school closures. But they didn’t let their learning stop there, instead they adapted their education during COVID-19.
At the Vidya Project, we support students across the globe to help them cultivate their change-making skills.
We developed the Changemakers Academy. It’s a program that combines classroom lessons, mentorship, and guest speakers to create a multi-touch curriculum focused on social causes within a specific community. Last year, we worked with the Child Welfare Society of Sierra Leone to support the young women in their network. Since then, the program has followed its usual format of in-person interaction.
However, when COVID-19 hit and schools closed, it was difficult for the Changemakers Academy to proceed as usual.
Three young women, university graduates from Freetown, were quick to adapt their education during COVID-19.
They used the academy curriculum and turned it into a radio show by girls, for girls. According to the BBC, 69% of Sierra Leonians have a radio in their homes. These young women adapted the delivery of this curriculum to a remote learning environment where internet access is difficult.
Child Welfare Society of Sierra Leone staff member Fatmata explains the goals of the girl-led radio program in the below video.
Additionally, the lockdowns that have come as a result of COVID-19 means an intersectional layer of difficulties for women across the globe. The loss of work and steady income, decreased access to technology, and more time spent isolated in homes has made it more difficult for women and girls to access support services during the pandemic. Women and girls who were already at risk for gender-based violence are even more at risk. The radio show allows for a real-time discussion of these issues. It serves as a space to share and update resources for those isolated at home.
Every Wednesday, a different group of young women host an hour of the “Girl Leaders” radio show.
It focuses on topics such as human rights, civil engagement, sexual harassment, COVID-19 safety tips, and more. As of now, the show is broadcast on Radio Maria (FM92.0) and Radio Tombo Voice of the Peninsula in Freetown. The show also has a call-in and SMS line open during each episode to engage listeners in live discussions. Since beginning the program in April, 12 episodes have aired with each one reaching over 2,500 girls nationwide.
As the implications of COVID-19 continue to develop and change the education landscape for girls across the globe, I have this hope.
We must listen to girls like these three and organizations like the Childwelfare Society. Governments, organizations, communities, and schools should engage girls and women to create their own on-the-ground responses to the impacts of COVID-19. I’m confident that young women across the globe are creating innovative solutions to this new world we are living in. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone. Supporting actors (funders, local, regional, and national governments, and civil society) should be looking directly at these communities and our girls for lessons on how to innovate and adapt efficiently and effectively.