During a recent trip to Tanzania, The Saturdays band members Rochelle Wiseman and Vanessa White saw firsthand how Comic Relief and the UK government are helping girls change their lives through the Common Ground Initiative.
With money raised by the British public for Comic Relief and financial support from the UK government, the Common Ground Initiative funds projects that are set up and run by members of the African diaspora. These are people living in the UK with African heritage and strong links to the continent, who have set up organisations which aim to change the lives of those who need it across some of Africa’s poorest countries.
Rochelle, 23, and Vanessa, 22, spent time with the Children’s Dignity Forum and UMATI projects. They are supported by FORWARD, a UK based diaspora organisation which has received funding through the Initiative. They work tirelessly to give children and young girls the confidence and knowledge to avoid forced marriages and early pregnancy.Their work is crucial because even though the legal age to marry in Tanzania is 15, six out of 10 young girls in the district where these projects work are forced into child marriage, and often they become extremely young mothers.
Throughout their trip the singers were deeply inspired by the many girls and young women they met who have been supported by the projects.
They saw how girls are taught to understand that they don’t need to marry and have babies when still so young. They can choose to have an education and decide when to get married instead.
They were particularly moved by the experience of sisters Veronica, 13, and her sister Doto, 17. Doto was forced to marry at 15 and had a baby but was then abandoned by her husband.
Becoming a wife and mother so young meant she had to give up her education, but the same will not happen to her younger sister and UMATI peer educator Veronica. She is focused on completing her education and becoming a teacher. Thanks to UMATI she has the confidence to report her parents to the police if they try and make her marry against her will.
Vanessa said: “You can really see the impact that the Children’s Dignity Forum and UMATI are having. Fewer children are being forced to marry and have babies. Now they have the courage to report any abuse. They wouldn’t have that voice if it wasn’t for these projects.”
Rochelle agrees adding: “It’s been wonderful hearing the stories of these brave girls and women. These projects know the difficulties faced by so many children in Tanzania and they’ll do everything they can to help. It’s been a humbling experience and a real privilege to see how Comic Relief and UK aid are supporting projects like these to make a real difference.”The co-founder of the Children’s Dignity Forum is Dr Monica Mhojam, who was born and raised in Tanzania before moving to the UK. She has a deep understanding of the communities there, the problems they face and the possible solutions.
She explains: “We know that educating and empowering children to make their own choices significantly improves their lives and future opportunities.”They are able to complete their schooling, get a good job and benefit financially, ending the poverty trap for them and their families."
To watch the film of their visit, click here.
Source: Comic Relief