When Micaela first visited Nyumba Yanga in 2008, it was already set-up as an orphanage for girl children. So initially our focus on girls was purely by default, and we intended to take on new projects as the organization grew, supporting boy children as well.
However, over time, we got to know the girls we help, support and care for. We began as an organization to learn together and became more aware of the gendered face and impacts of poverty, and consequently the unique challenges that women and girls in particular face as a result of their gender.
“The assumption that women and girls are less than equal and
therefore deserve less dignity and freedom is perhaps the most
ancient, pervasive, and insidious evil of them all.”
The term “the girl child” was introduced in the 1980s in response to a heightened recognition of the multitude of ways in which girls face discrimination and oppression through trends such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation, female feticide, lack of access to education, and commercial sexual exploitation. Ultimately, girl children in the developing world face a spectrum of significant cultural and institutional obstacles including barriers to education, access to good nutrition and health, decision-making, safety, and economic self-sufficiency. Girl children are differentially impacted by these barriers (in comparison to boys and adult women). Ultimately, the girl child is clearly identified and identifiable by what she is denied: power, privilege, and decision-making capacity – all of which are inherently caught up in her age and gender (and often her race and class as well). The United Nations pronounced 1990, “The Year of The Girl Child” and the 1990s, “The Decade of the Girl Child.” As a result, the “girl child movement” was born, and continued to gain recognition on both macro and micro levels as many organizations began to intentionally customize their programming in order to support the unique needs of girl children throughout the developing world.
Over time, our focus on supporting girl children evolved to become much more intentional, and Micaela decided to focus the research for her master’s degree on studying the ethics of how girl children are represented and supported within the NGO sector. What became of utmost importance to us at Homes of Joy, was not to frame girl children as passive victims of fate. Instead, we aim to transparently explain and depict that they face a unique set of challenges, and thus need strong channels of support in order to become active agents of their own success. In the effort to tug at heartstrings and procure funds, many NGOs have fallen into tactics of using “poverty porn” (portraying crying, ill, unclean, and impoverished images/descriptions of girl children, which intentionally elicit feelings of guilt and sympathy, driving donors to contribute). It has been of huge importance to us not to follow these trends or tactics, and instead to portray our girls as they would choose to be portrayed. This focus on hope, empowerment, agency, and dignity carries over into how we represent the girls and their stories to you, our donors. We strongly believe that being a recipient of support and retaining one’s agency and dignity are not mutually exclusive.
Therefore, we select photos and stories that are balanced; they are authentic portrayals of the lived realities of the girls at Nyumba Yanga, and yet depict them with agency and dignity. We also often choose to use pictures and stories that the girls pick themselves when asked how they want to tell their own stories. This means that yes, we choose to use positive photos where the girls are happy. We are not implying that this happiness is directly tied to the support we have provided, nor is it an indicator that the girls do not need support. We simply want to show you that despite the challenges they face, these girls remain optimistic and hope and joy filled.
“I realized that the barrier to girls’ education isn’t just resources. It’s also about attitudes and beliefs – the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education; that women should have no role outside the home; that their bodies aren’t their own, their minds don’t really matter, and their voices simply shouldn’t be heard”
One of the best ways we can recognize and support the needs of girl children is through our focus on education. Every additional year of primary school increases girls' eventual wages by 10-20% (UN Women). It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children and leaves them less vulnerable to violence. All girls we support at HOJ are attending schools in the private system each year (as well as reputable college and vocational programs). In the private school system, class sizes are much smaller, teachers are certified, and the overall quality of education is much higher than within the public system. In Zambia, only 25.7% of women reach a secondary level of education, in comparison to 44.2% of men (UNAIDS, 2020). Furthermore, the national adult literacy rate in Zambia is only 61.4%, with the male youth literacy rate at 70.8% (15-24 years), and the female youth literacy rate at merely 58.5% (UNICEF, 2016). This means that by ensuring that the girls at Nyumba Yanga and FIMH are receiving a high-quality education, we are helping to give them the skills and agency to succeed within their own society, and facilitating bridging gaps formed by their status as orphaned girl children.
We are also aware that many of the girls come from traumatic backgrounds. Therefore, we work with the Sisters to provide a safe and loving environment, and address the unique set of challenges the girls face. We provide tutoring for girls who have missed years of school or are just learning English. We also prioritize funding for healthcare, nutritious food and clean water, provide sexual health education and skills training workshops. Additionally, for complex cases, we have a psychologist who works with the girls to help ensure healing from trauma and healthy psychosocial development.
Our hope is that by recognizing the distinctive challenges, needs and vulnerabilities each girl experiences, we can empower them to become healthy, self-sufficient, and able to pursue their own dreams. Ultimately, our focus on transparency and accountability to both our supporters and those we support is something that drives our work. This instills and solidifies our belief that development with dignity is indeed possible. We remain committed to providing the girls we support with “a Home for Today and Hope for Tomorrow!”
“Because when you lift up women,
you lift up humanity!”