Oct. 11 was declared as International Day of the Girl in 2011 “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.”

Today, we meet five girls and young women in Rwanda who are paving the way for others like them to fulfill their education goals. Across Rwanda, girls are often forced to drop out of school due to pregnancy, poverty, violence or conflict. When, or if, they return to school, it’s a race to catch up.

Girls like Kevine, Divine and Keza are part of Rwanda’s Association des Guides du Rwanda, which has been operating in the country since 1980 to help provide tools and supplementary education to girls and young women. The organization is part of the World Association of Girl Guide and Girl Scouts.

Here are their stories:

Keza, 12

(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)
(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)

“When I was younger, my mother got really sick. I had to stay home and look after my siblings. I missed my friends so much … When I returned, I was bullied by my classmates. They said I wasn’t as intelligent as them. I didn’t feel confident enough to challenge them and I was to scared to raise my hand in class.

“If I didn’t understand something, [Girl Guides] encouraged me to ask. Now, I feel much more confident and capable. I love going to school.”

Divine, 12

(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)
(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)

“We’re not taught in depth about topics such as sexual health, violence or sugar daddies at school. At my weekly Girl Guides group, we can talk about it openly. It has provided a safe space to tackle these issues and I’ve learnt what to do if I feel at risk of violence.”

Kevine, 8

(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)
(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)

“I like doing sports, but at school, girls aren’t allowed to participate as boys are seen as stronger. Thanks to [Girl Guides], I’ve learnt I am strong enough to do sports — or anything else I want to do. Next time I am told I am not allowed to participate, I will speak up.

“I don’t feel shy. I can put my hand up in class and speak up. Being able to participate in school is very important as education means a lot to me. When I am learning, I know I will succeed in my lessons.”

Kirezi, 21

(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)
(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)

“Secondary school wasn’t easy if you were a girl. No one told us about menstruation and what it meant — it was a secret part of our culture. When I got my period, I was at school. I could feel something happening to me. When I went to check, I saw the blood. I felt fearful. I had heard about periods on the radio, but I didn’t know what to do and I felt as though there was no one I could talk to. I was only 13.”

Emmerence, 22

(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)
(Hervé Irankunda/WAGGGS)

“Girls in my community face a lot of barriers to getting a safe education. Poverty is a big problem. There is also an issue with sugar daddies — older men who seduce little girls. These girls eventually fall pregnant and drop out of school.

“Growing up, my family wasn’t rich. Sometimes, they couldn’t afford my school fees, so I would miss entire terms. When I did go to school, I couldn’t afford the school materials, so it was difficult … If I hadn’t become a Girl Guide, I would not have finished high school and I wouldn’t have met so many girls who encouraged me to keep going — even when I was struggling.”

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