The general portrayal of children, young people and women in disasters is one where they exist only as helpless victims. However, adolescent girls as a distinct sub-group have been able to take on a leading role as agents of change within the context of disaster risk reduction (DRR). A Participatory Action Research (PAR) study, known as the G.I.R.R.L. Project was designed to increase knowledge for empowerment, to encourage leadership development and to improve the resilience of marginalized, black, South African adolescent girls while helping to integrate them into DRR initiatives. The research findings support the notion that young people, especially adolescent girls, when empowered, can defy socially-derived roles as victims through their contributions to participatory DRR-related activities. Recommendations derive from the need to involve and integrate persons with the same demographics into further strategic capacity building programme to maximize impact and ultimately help reshape DRR, with their unique perspectives and contributions.
The G.I.R.R.L project, which in 2009 was funded by the Dr. Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality aimed at addressing the issue of risk reduction through its goal of minimizing the social vulnerability of adolescent girls through the implementation of capacity building activities. This human capacity building, effected through the provision of critical training and information in areas such as first aid, basic disaster management, communication, personal and public health, will be used as the tool for empowerment and will establish the foundation needed for inner and outward change.
In 2008 the G.I.R.R.L project was implemented at Boitshoko Secondary in Ikageng. The participants all come from the Sonderwater area where they have no access to water, sanitation or electricity. Under the guidance of Kylah Forbes-Biggs from Jamaica the project was a huge success and received a United Nations Good Practices Award for Gender based Disaster Risk Reduction among adolescent girls in South Africa. My role was facilitator, assisted in logistics and presented the communication session to the girls, focusing on leadership, teamwork and effective communication.
The funding provided by the Dr. Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality provided for the implementation at two various sites within the North West Province. One site is located in the Maquassi Hills area at Reabona Secondary and the other site is located in Ventersdorp at Thuto Boswa Secondary. Implementation at both sites have focused on various capacity building sessions and covered additional aspects such as philosophy, family management and certified peer education training.
The culmination of the project sees the participants hosting their own community event. The focus of this event is to disseminate information that the girls find important to convey to their community and to highlight the hazards that have been identified by the girls within their communities. The G.I.R.R.L project is unique as it is one of the only projects in the world that put adolescent girls at the centre of Disaster Risk Reduction.
The weekend of the 8th of August 2009 saw the participants of Reabona Secondary present their community event. The Mayor of Wolmaransstad His Worship Councillor Lethloe also attended the event. Around 300 community members and guests attended the event. The girls addressed issues of crime, unsafe sex, HIV/Aids and freedom in their event.
This was done by means of a drama, song and dance and two poems that the girls wrote themselves. The day was a huge success and the community can be extremely proud of their girls.
Being project manager for the Ventersdorp GIRRL site has provided me with the necessary project management skills and crisis control experience. I enjoyed the responsibility of managing a project, working within a strict timeline, managing the budget and coordinating all the facilitators and managing the various stakeholders.
Currently the Ventersdorp sessions have addressed the following issues: team building and decision-making, physical health and exercise, mental health and coping strategies, personal safety and self-defence. Although the content of the project is similar to that of the previous two, it is important to understand the different communities in which the girls function and to accommodate their needs as far as possible.
The girls in Ventersdorp are very different from the participants in Ikageng and in Maquassi which brings with it, its own challenges and dynamics and this is what project work is all about. Working with people is my passion and the diversity of our youth is what makes us proudly South African! The Ventersdorp project was successfully completed at the end of November 2009.