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A Mentor Evolves with a Program

The Girl MOVE Foundation’s Mwarusi project in Mozambique is financed by the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. The project relies on mentors who volunteer to lead weekly life skills sessions for 20–30 adolescent girls. The mentors develop close relationships and gain the girls’ trust so that they can discuss sensitive topics like behaviors that jeopardize their health and how to avoid such behaviors.

The mentor program is also important because it is contributing to a generation of young women leaders. Women in Mozambique aren’t used to intense volunteer work, so Mwarusi complements their training with skills such as time management, financial literacy, and coaching to help manage their volunteering responsibilities with their studies and personal life.

Dércia is 26-year-old mentor who has a master’s in economics. She sees something of herself in the former Finance Minister of Mozambique Dr. Luisa Diogo, and in the great economist Rangeda de Sousa. “They inspire me because they are also economists and they stand out from the crowd.”

Dércia’s opportunity to stand out from the crowd came when one of her teachers told her about a social project that worked with teenage girls and asked if she might be interested. Dércia replied immediately that she was, and applied. “There were a lot of women applying but only 30 would be picked. For a while I doubted that I would be chosen, so when my name was on that final list I was overwhelmed with joy,” recalls Dércia.

“Being a mentor is a huge responsibility. It’s not just about facilitating a session and playing with them; the girls actually start look at us as role models. At the beginning of the project my Mwarusis (girls in the project) were very shy, but now they tell me a lot, even more than they are supposed to. They think they are not children anymore. They want to date, do things that are not appropriate for their age…” Dércia says with a laugh. “But their behavior has improved. Those who have cellphones call me when they are going to be late, when they are going to travel, etc. I am so happy that I’m changing the lives of these teenage girls.”

“It’s very interesting to work as a mentor. At first, I thought it would be extremely hard because I would be dealing with teenage girls ages 11 to 16, who are still discovering themselves. I looked at them and thought, ‘Will I be able to talk to them? Will they understand me?’ Over time, I got used to them and they started warming up to me.”

The program has also changed Dércia. “I was a shy person and the project helped me become more social. I feel freer now, with the girls, other mentors, and with the girls’ parents. I never imagined going to visit to people I didn’t know, and I was scared. Today, I go to the Mwarusis’ homes and have conversations with their mothers. The best thing is that the parents actually get more enthusiastic about sending their girls to us.”

Even still, Dércia says, “The people who’ve been most affected by my participation in the project are my family members. My mother likes the way I’ve been behaving, not that I used to misbehave, but the fact that I’m now more social and talk a lot more with her. The project came to awaken in me a more sensitive side. I used to look at strangers as just other people. Now I see them as people who might need help. I know I can’t help everybody but I can always say ‘good morning.’ By greeting people, they feel lighter and sometimes that’s enough for them to open up.”

“Being a woman in Mozambique is a major challenge due to cultural patterns. And in the neighborhood where we work, families are vulnerable, especially girls. This project is a refuge for the Mwarusis to be heard and loved. I always remind them about their rights and duties. And now that it’s easier for me to talk to people in the street, I’m spreading the word about the project,” concludes Dércia with a smile.

JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., is the DREAMS Innovation Challenge Funds manager and in that role supports 46 DREAMS-IC winners selected to execute cutting-edge programs across the 10 countries. JSI provides overall program support for DREAMS–IC and technical assistance to implementing partners includes strengthening partners’ institutional capacity to manage awards in compliance with U.S. Government regulations and supporting them in reaching the DREAMS–IC goal to reduce the incidence of HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.

For more information visit, http://www.girlmove.org. To learn more about the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, please visit www.dreamspartnership.org. This publication was funded through a grant from the United States Department of State as part of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, managed by JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State or JSI.