In countless occasions, we hear people chant “the children are the future’’, ‘’children are the leaders of tomorrow’’, but would there really be a tomorrow if we do not take care of today? One dependable way to guarantee a better tomorrow is through education. More important is the need to improve female education as it is pivotal for national development, hence the phrase ‘’when you educate a girl, you educate a nation’’.
The challenges faced by girls in Nigeria especially in the Northern parts of the country spans from limitations in structured education, access to schools; forced child marriages, perverse violence and assaults, which make it more difficult for girls to build and sustain the confidence needed to push through in life. Many adolescent girls in Nigeria are exposed too early to cruelty. These young girls have been rendered vulnerable, abused by a trusted figure and are clueless as to what trust and safety feel like or where to go to feel safe. Blame is most times attributed to the girls’ actions and never to the offenders, encouraging an enclosed, isolated and hostile lifestyle. The girls become hesitant, developing feelings of isolation and depression, navigating challenges on their own and without guidance.
As the old saying goes, “A problem shared is a problem half solved”, there is the need to have a medium that allows these girls the opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment. Each time a young girl decides to open up about her situation, confidence is built. Each time a layer of fear of being judged is shed, confidence is built. Confidence cannot be built with threats and assaults and blame, but with care, understanding and love.
Lately, a couple of companies and individuals are investing in girl-child education. iSON, one of Africa’s largest IT and ITeS companies is taking the lead to guide and protect the young African woman, giving her hope and courage for the future, through Girls Connect program in partnership with Girl Effect . Through a combination of a traditional call centre with the power of a good story, one girl at a time, iSON transforms hearts of fear and anguish to hearts of bravery, confidence and laughter.
iSON’s approach is an outstanding method which uses compelling stories to reach young women from across a broad spectrum of Nigeria’s society through the kind of interactive voice recognition software which is designed to eliminate the need for costly human interaction. The idea is to get the callers to engage with a call centre representative who can help them process the information and use it in their daily lives. These representatives are specially-trained agents, which the company calls Role Models.
Stories that these girls can personally relate to are used in this radical new program to help adolescent girls in Nigeria navigate the challenges of growing up in a country where low levels of female empowerment and education are hardly addressed.
Ramesh Awtaney, Founder and Chairman of iSON technologies explained that the inspiration behind making use of the call centres is borne out of iSON’s desire to use call centre services to benefit Africa’s young women. “In the customer service industry we try and resolve your problem by putting you in touch with an automated machine. If the machine can’t help, you are connected to a role model. So the thinking was that we could replicate this process for girls in the context of giving them information on relationships, medical problems, education, and social media’’.
Many adolescent girls in Nigeria, can relate to at least one element of the different stories used to connect with the callers. Young and adolescent girls all over the world would feel more comfortable confiding in someone they cannot see in explaining sensitive and difficult situations as they enjoy freedom from judgement.
“It’s really challenging being a girl in Nigeria today, the message we are trying to instil is that you are valuable as a girl.” says Iveren Shinshima, who works as a Role Model. These role models have experienced feelings of gratitude in the value and lessons they impart, and also in simply being present for the adolescent girls at an all-too-familiar vulnerable point in their lives. Maureen Ijogo Onah, another Role Model says, “A lot of times teenage girls just want someone to listen to them, to talk to them, just to hear them out in whatever situation they find themselves in’’.
These role models act as the true definition of big sisters, offering solid advice, counsel and intervention when needed through iSON’s call centers. As a result of the isolated lifestyle the girl child is accustomed to, speaking out on issues she faced does not come so easily to them. With the hopes of empowering girls using trained mentors and more easily accessible platforms like mobile phones, iSON gives girls new perspectives on how to deal with problems faced in their lives, helping every girl believe and understand how valuable she is to the society.