Empowering Young Girls in South Africa
Meet Rose, the Ashinaga Africa Initiative(AAI) Scholar leading change to empower young girls in South Africa.
“I want women to be at the forefront of change. I wanted to create an organization for women by women,” Said Rose, AAI Scholar from South Africa who dreams of building a vocational training center for the girls in South Africa.
South Africa counts for one-fifth of people infected with HIV globally, with most new infections occurring amongst women. Economic instability, domestic violence, lack of access to medical services, and absence of sexual education are amongst the reasons which make women more vulnerable to the disease.
Rose’s mother passed away due to HIV. The loss was difficult for her, but she used her grief to fuel a passion for leading change in her community. Rose started learning more about HIV and what makes it more rampant in women through her Medical Anthropology classes. She then decided to start an organization in her mother’s honor. “I lived with a parent who contracted HIV; I do not want to see another girl go through what my mother went through, so I created an organization that aims to prevent girls from getting HIV. I have also observed how rife teenage pregnancy is, which means these girls are also susceptible to getting HIV, so I want to pacify that as well.”
To solve the problem, Rose’s organization provides young girls in her community with training in Entrepreneurship, financial freedom, sexual health, and many other essential topics. “We want to empower girls to be independent beings and social agents in their communities. If you are empowered and enlightened, there is no room for men to prey on you and ultimately contract HIV”. “I might not be able to uproot it completely, but I will sleep peacefully at night knowing that at least I did something about it.”
To bring her project to life, Rose launched a fundraising campaign on her birthday and raised 500$. She secured partnerships with a clinic for HIV testing and the police department for self-defense classes. The week-long workshop offers 80 high school girls training in entrepreneurship, health, teenage pregnancy, sex education, and applying for scholarships abroad.
Rose has been stepping into leadership roles from a young age. She acted as her class representative and participated in debate tournaments and public speaking events. In 2016, Rose recalled attending a special session in high school that had a significant impact on her life. The guest speaker was a girl from her village who finished a fellowship in Japan. She encouraged the students to dream bigger and look for opportunities beyond South Africa. Rose’s closing remarks for the session left the guest speaker impressed by her eloquence. She reached out to Rose and asked to stay in touch. The guest speaker started mentoring Rose and shared the Ashinaga opportunity with Rose a few weeks later.
Rose spoke of the 27th of May 2018, the day she received the call with the offer from Ashinaga, as a turning point in her life. “The 27th of May 2017 was the day my mother passed away because of HIV. A year later, it became the day I received a full scholarship from Ashinaga. A day that carried so much sadness was now a day that symbolized new beginnings. I called all my family members and asked for a gathering. Everyone thought I was having a tough time because it was my mother’s passing anniversary. I shared the news, and everyone was so happy and proud. “That call from Ashinaga erased the bad memory of that day for my family and replaced it with a happy one.”
A few months later, Rose packed her suitcase and joined the Ashinaga study camp in Uganda.” That was the first time I was challenged academically and personally. I met intelligent and assertive individuals who spoke their minds freely. I sometimes held back because my English was not good enough. I am grateful for the camp because I made long-lasting friendships.” The experience left Rose excited for her next adventure, moving to and studying in Japan.
Rose is currently studying Medical Anthropology in Japan. “The experience of being in Japan is a catalyst for my professional, personal, and spiritual growth. I discovered a lot about myself here. Japan has many opportunities. When I decided to put myself out there despite the language barrier, suddenly, many opportunities started gravitating towards me.” Rose’s experience in the AAI is helping her unleash her potential. “The different activities in the AAI leadership program ignited something in me. They gave me a push in the right direction. I started to see what other people saw in me. I am more confident in who I am and what I stand for, my voice, and my story.”
For current students in general and AAI Scholars in particular, Rose advised, “Work hard and keep the faith. There will never be a perfect time to do anything, and everything else will fall into place once you start working on your dream. Just start; you will learn as you go; experience is the best teacher.”