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Meet the Unstoppable Girls and the 7 Challenges They’re Overcoming

Hear stories from incredible girls who’re defeating poverty.


International Day of the Girl Child

Every day, girls are denied their basic rights. They’re being robbed of their dignity, removed from their classrooms or placed in violent and dangerous situations. When families face economic hardship, it's often women and girls who suffer disproportionately .

But girls are also the key to ending poverty.

When women and girls have an equal part in development, we see a positive ripple effect across their families, communities and nations.

We’re highlighting the incredible girls we have the privilege of knowing who are overcoming the issues poverty places in their paths thanks to the support of their local church. Meet the unstoppable girls who are defying the odds.

1) Fighting for education

educating girls in Bangladesh

Location: Bangladesh

The Issue: A girls’ education is often the first thing families sacrifice when they face economic hardship. According to the World Bank, 50% of the 3.1 million Bangladeshi children enrolled in primary school are girls. But only 28% of these girls will complete their education.

Meet the unstoppable girl defying the odds

15-year-old Shanti belongs to one of Bangladesh’s largest indigenous minority groups. One of the greatest challenges children like Shanti face is the Chakma people mainly speak their own tribal language rather than the majority language, Bengali. This puts children from this group at a disadvantage in the educational system, where only Bengali is spoken.

Shanti from Bangladesh

Children from the Chakma group tend to drop out of school to join their family in agricultural labour which perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

With a passion for her studies, Shanti has accomplished something unheard of in her community: she's trilingual, understanding not only Chakma, but also Bengali and English.

Shanti has broken the mould for girls thanks to the invaluable support she’s receiving from her Compassion sponsor who provides her with books, school uniform and tuition fees through their monthly donations.

Thanks to this support, Shanti is able to give back to her community by tutoring her neighbour’s children for free. “I like to teach them, since it allows me to expand and practice what I know. It also helps me develop my teaching skills. My goal when I complete my education and become an excellent teacher.”

2) Taking a stand against FGM

Location: Kenya

The Issue: According to UNICEF, 1 in 5 women and girls in Kenya have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Amongst the Kenyan adolescent girls who have experienced FGM, about half were cut before the age of 10. Girls who experience FGM are more likely to be forced into child marriage, more likely to remain in poverty and less likely to stay in education.

Meet the unstoppable woman defying the odds

Fighting FGM in Kenya

Florence Lomariwo’s lifelong crusade against FGM, started with her own narrow escape.

When she turned 9, she learnt that she was to undergo FGM, then be married. “An old man had approached my family to arrange a marriage with me,” she recalls. “I didn't want to be married, so I ran away and lived with well-wishers who supported my desire to complete my education and make something of myself.”

Her determination paid off. After finishing secondary school, Florence enrolled in a teacher’s college and later graduated with a degree in education. She then married the man of her own choice — a privilege few women her age knew. This gave Florence the credentials and platform she needed to effect change.

Today, Florence runs a school and rescue centre for girls who escaped FGM and early marriage.

Through Florence’s dedication and hard work, Chemolingot Primary School is home to more than 150 young girls who have been rescued from FGM and early marriage. Among the girls who have found refuge at the primary school in the past, 11 are currently attending public universities and colleges and 49 are attending various high schools around the country.

In 2016, Florence’s church, African Inland Church Chemolingot, partnered with Compassion to launch a project and register children into the sponsorship programme. Today, 252 children gather every Saturday at the local church to participate in different activities and lessons.

As part of these Compassion project activities, Florence is helping ensure the children in her community receive ongoing education about their rights. She is also making sure parents are provided with training about the dangers of FGM.

3) Ending early child marriage and bridal kidnapping

fighting child marriage in Thailand

Location: Thailand

The Issue: Child marriage is often how families cope with extreme economic hardships. This puts millions of girls at risk of sexual and physical abuse, early pregnancy and maternal death. According to UNICEF, Thailand has the 19th highest number of child brides in the world, at 543,000. And among countries in Southeast Asia, Thailand has the second highest rate of child marriage.

You can help protect vulnerable girls by becoming a child sponsor today.

Meet the unstoppable girl defying the odds

Child marriage Thailand

“I didn’t want to marry him, but it’s tradition,” Chompuu says. At only 13, she was another victim of the age-old custom of bride kidnapping.

Bride kidnapping and child marriage are common among Chompuu’s people, the Hmong. According to tradition, a male can abduct a girl and lock her in a room, after which he can claim her as his bride.

Seventeen-year-old Noojee, also from Chompuu’s Hmong village in Thailand’s northern hill country, is living a different life. She is unmarried, and she is pursuing an education.

The difference in Noojee’s life is largely attributed to her local church's partnership with the Compassion Child Sponsorship Programme.

Noojee’s parents are subsistence farmers and live in the same house with six other families in their clan. The families share their earnings equally with the others. “It was quite a challenge when Noojee was first registered in the programme," recalls Lursak SaeJang, the director of the project. "Her family had the typical mindset that girls don’t need education and must remain at home to serve the family.”

But when Noojee’s father witnessed the transformation in his daughter, who was becoming a strong and courageous person through the influence of the church and its Compassion programme, he decided to take the family to church. Over time, the whole family placed their faith in God.

“In my community, there are so many expectations on me because I am a girl,” says Noojee. “But I am so thankful that my family is Christian, and that my parents support me in going to school.”

4) Bringing water and sanitation

safe water and sanitation

Location: Togo

Issue: According to UNICEF, women and girls collectively spend an estimated 200 million hours collecting water every day, with the average African woman and girl walking 6 kilometres.

Meet the unstoppable girls defying the odds

Five-year-old twins, Mary and Martha live in Golovou, a remote village in southern Togo. The girls are part of Good Samaritan Child Development Centre, a church-based Compassion project. Through sponsorship the twins receive support with their education as well as additional lessons and activities on Saturdays when they attend their project. Until recently, there was one lesson that made no sense to the girls, the one on hygiene and sanitation.

That’s because when the Compassion project opened in 2017, the residents of Golovou lacked access to safe water and adequate sanitation.

“We shared the river with oxen and other livestock, recalls Bidali, the girl's father. “It’s very sad that we had no other options than using this water. It was difficult to drink because you could see micro-elements floating in the water even when it had been boiled. Because of that, my children often developed stomachaches. My children and I also couldn’t take daily showers. And when the river dried up, we had to travel to a nearby village about 20 kilometres [12 miles] away to fetch water.”

While lack of access to sanitation and safe water is one of the greatest challenges that children in poverty face, girls like Martha and Mary are often disproportionally impacted.

Walking for water is a physically demanding, time-consuming activity that often falls to women and girls. The journey not only means girls miss out on valuable time at school but walking alone also makes them vulnerable to physical or sexual violence. At home, the lack of water and sanitation makes managing a monthly period also far more challenging, another reason girls miss school.

Today, Mary and Martha no longer wonder what it means to practice good hygiene and sanitation. They are developing healthful habits like washing their hands before meals and after using the toilet, brushing their teeth and bathing frequently, thanks to a new borehole well at the Compassion project, constructed in December 2018.

Grateful to no longer depend on water from the river, Mary says, “I am happy for the water at the [Compassion] project, because it is closer to us and easier to collect. Also, the water from the tap is very clean and much sweeter than the river water.”

5) Tackling gender-based violence

tackling gender based violence

*Warning: Some readers may find the next story distressing*

Location: Bolivia

Issue: In Bolivia, one of every three girls experiences sexual violence before turning 18, and 70 percent of women have been victims of such abuse. In fact, Bolivia has the second highest rate of sexual violence in South America.

Meet the unstoppable girl defying the odds

Esperanza lives in an agricultural region in Bolivia. From the time she was a little girl, her parents would leave her with older siblings while they went to work in fields some distance from their home. Sometimes they would be gone for a whole month. Left at home, Esperanza was neglected by her siblings charged with protecting and caring for her. The neglect became a crisis when she and her brother went with a family friend to pick fruit. During the outing, the man lured the little girl away from her brother and further into the trees where he raped her.

fighting gender based violence

After this first attack, Esperanza was abused again at age 9. Today at 24, she recalls, “This time it happened at my house, by my brother-in-law. I didn’t know what to do.” To protect herself from her brother-in-law’s continued advances, she sometimes stayed at a neighbour's house. But then, the neighbour’s brother tried to abuse her. And because Esperanza slept in a bed with her older brother, he also became her abuser.

The only place Esperanza could find refuge from the recurring abuse was her local church-based Compassion project.

“When I was at the project, I worried only about playing, learning about the Bible and the other lessons. I liked to be there because I didn’t feel anxious, as I did at home.”

It was also at the project that Esperanza came to an understanding of the truth: that she was the innocent victim of a terrible evil. “The project staff taught me to trust in God, recalls Esperanza. “That’s what gave me hope to go on and find meaning in life, despite the circumstances.”

When she was 14, Esperanza made a huge step in her restoration by accepting Jesus as her Saviour. Later, she took another step by learning how to forgive her perpetrators and her parents for their failure to protect her. She says, “After I made the commitment to forgive, the oppression in my life disappeared. God rescued me from that dark world.”

Today, Esperanza is a college graduate and a business professional. In the future, she dreams of becoming a motivational speaker for youth, to help them understand their  purpose in life.

6) Fighting against child labour  

Location: Tanzania

Issue: According to UNICEF, gender is a crucial determinant of whether a child engages in labour. While child labour is an infringement of the rights of all children – girls often start working at an earlier age than boys.

Meet the unstoppable girl defying the odds

sisters in Tanzania

Seventeen-year-old Monica and her 15-year-old sister, Esther, are best friends. They grew up doing everything together. They went to school together, did chores together and even wore each other’s clothes.

The sisters live in a small mud hut in the remote village of Mvumi in Tanzania. Their parents, Stephano and Pendo, are subsistence farmers and work on a small piece of land. Putting food on the table was a daily struggle for Stephano and Pendo, let alone covering other necessities.

With no other choice, Stephano and Pendo decided to pull their youngest daughter Esther out of school and send her to live with an aunt to work as a maid, a position that earned her family an additional US$13 a month.

Monica was able to stay in school thanks to her Compassion sponsor. Through sponsorship, Monica’s school fees and supplies were covered, and she was able to finish primary school. When Monica failed to achieve the grades for a secondary school place, her Compassion project enrolled her in a vocational course.

Today, Monica has a qualification in tailoring which she is using to bring in an extra income for the family. Thanks to this support, Esther, now 15, has come home and is reunited with her best friend — her big sister. Monica's hope is that Esther will be able to participate in the same vocational training programme. She says, "I want my sister to take a tailoring class as I did. I think she would be good at it."

7) Overcoming disability prejudice

overcoming disability prejudice

Location: Guatemala

Issue: According to the UN, women and girls with disabilities face significantly more difficulties – in both public and private spheres. These women and girls are more likely to experience violence and abuse, and face barriers accessing education, health care and other services.

Meet the unstoppable girl defying the odds

11-year-old Cleidy lives in one of the poorest communities in Guatemala. Cleidy was born without hands, something that would have marginalised her if it hadn’t been for her tenacious spirit and the support of her local church.

Cleidy’s mother, ashamed of her daughter’s disability, abandoned her when she was three years old. From that day, Cleidy has lives with her grandmother, Vitalina.

“I was sad about what my daughter thought of Cleidy and how she felt. I knew that because of her disability, it would be challenging to care for her. But I trusted in God,” Victalina recalls.

Believing in her granddaughter’s abilities, Victalina made a bold decision to move her to a local public school. “I knew it would be a big challenge to Cleidy because there were no resources to support her additional needs, and she would be treated like a child without limitations. Still, I believed it was a good idea because she is an exceptional girl,” says Victalina, with fierce pride in her voice.

As well as attending school, Cleidy is also part of church-based Compassion project. It turned out that most of her classmates were also church friends, and they were glad to help her with any difficulties that arose.

“I love my friends!” says Cleidy with shining eyes. “They are very helpful to me if I need anything. If I need a pencil, someone will give it to me. Or if I need extra help at home, someone helps me.”

Despite being born without hands, Cleidy has learnt to write thanks to Jamin, her tutor at the Compassion project. Thanks to his support, Cleidy discovered a love and a talent for writing which has earnt her the title of best letter writer at her project.

“Every year, Cleidy wins the prize because of her enthusiasm and the beauty of her writing, as well as the colourful drawings she makes,” says Jamin. “I feel so proud of that.”
Thanks to the love and support of those around her, Cleidy is becoming the girl Victalina knew she could be – a girl with dreams, opportunities and a bright future.

Empower the next generation of unstoppable girls 

Every day, poverty tries to cut a girl's childhood short. It places barriers in front of her stopping her achieving her full potential. It steals her hope and self-belief. 

You can remove these barriers by sponsoring a girl today. Through your support, you'll ensure a Compassion-sponsored girl receives education, regular health check-ups, nutritional support, vocational training and the love and support of the local church.

Through your letters, you'll also have the opportunity to speak words of hope and encouragement over her life.  

Sponsor an unstoppable girl today



WORDS : Emily Laramy

PHOTOS : Compassion International


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