Inclusive Mentorship to Promote the Rights and Wellbeing of Girls with Disabilities
After obtaining a degree in educational psychology with a focus in social work, Dorca learned signed language through her church. The next year, she interned at Sansão Mutemba Secondary School, where she had the opportunity to practice communicating with students with hearing impairments through sign language. During this internship, Dorca observed that these students had poor educational achievement, and that their teachers lacked the skills to communicate with them, especially about information on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), HIV/AIDS, and safe sexual behaviors. Thus, students with hearing impairments were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
This experience heightened Dorca’s interest in working with people with hearing impairments and led her to become a mentor for the Christian Council of Mozambique-Sofala (CCM), a local implementing partner of WEI/Bantwana’s USAID FCC project in Beira.
My ability to communicate through sign language and willingness to work with people with disabilities was something that sparked the interest of CCM staff and contributed to my selection as a mentor.
During her training at CCM, Dorca learned about FCC Girls’ Empowerment Clubs (GECs), which create safe spaces for adolescent girls to come together in a fun environment to learn about SRH topics, participate in economic strengthening activities, and gain other life skills. Dorca volunteered to create a GEC for students with hearing impairments at Sansão Mutemba Secondary School where she had previously interned.
She realized that the GEC may be the only source of SRH, HIV, and GBV prevention information in sign language for these vulnerable girls. In March 2019, Dorca started GEC sessions with a group of 30 girls. Three months later, she created a second group, reaching 51 girls altogether. Most of the members had experienced psychological, sexual, or physical violence; did not know their HIV status; were discriminated against because of their disability; or had turned to sex work, begging, or selling small goods as a means of survival instead of attending school. Many of their families felt that girls with hearing impairments should remain at home rather than going to school. Dorca used guided discussions during GEC sessions to share information on SRH, the importance of HIV testing, family planning, GBV and reporting channels, and the importance of staying in school. By engaging in essential health and social topics that they had not previously been able to communicate about in sign language, the girls gained key protective assets and agency to make positive decisions about their health and future.
In August, 47 of Dorca’s GEC members were inspired to go for HIV testing voluntarily, which was conducted by a mobile health brigade of a clinical partner of the FCC project. 4 of the girls informed their trusted mentor, Dorca, that they are HIV-positive. They are now on antiretroviral therapy to treat HIV and are also receiving FCC education subsidies to stay in school.
As a mentor, my biggest challenges are continuing to follow up with group members to provide emotional, psychosocial and mentoring support; ensuring that HIV+ members continue on ART; and ensuring that the girls continue vocational trainings. The trainings are a way to prepare for employment opportunities that accommodate their disabilities after they finish school.
The girls also know how to report GBV and have received referrals for response services for the two cases to date. In addition, the girls benefit from psychosocial support to cope with the challenges they face, while their caregivers are participating in parenting sessions to learn about the importance of keeping all girls in school.
The USAID-funded Força à Comunidade e Crianças (FCC) project is an initiative aimed at improving and expanding evidenced-based models of integrated support for orphans and vulnerable children and their households. The Bantwana Initiative of World Education, Inc. implements USAID FCC in collaboration with the Government of Mozambique and a range of local implementing partners to reach over 100,000 vulnerable children and adolescents with integrated services to help them thrive and grow into productive and healthy adults.