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Thursday, August 1, 2013

An inspirational story from Madame Stella

Yesterday Sophie, Grace and I went to visit an organisation called Gigdev in Tamale, which works in ‘girls’ growth and development’. We were intrigued to learn more about this project, and its setup, to give us some guidelines for setting up our own, young person focused project in West Mampousi.
The first things that struck me on arrival was the discipline and focus of the uniformed girls working there, and the wealth of information laid out for them all around. There were leaflets and posters with advice and information on health issues, safety issues and legal issues; from instructions on how to register to vote to warnings about sex trafficking. It was immediately clear that these young ladies were being very well respected, and cared for here.
We met up with the founder of the foundation, Madame Stella, who is one of the most inspiring women I think I have ever met. And this, is her story:
Stella had worked as a nurse all of her life until she retired, with poorly legs which required crutches. But, seeing the vulnerability of young girls with no skills or education drove her far away from the peaceful, restful retirement that many would dream of.
She was sat in her house one afternoon, when she noticed five girls, fighting. She went to go and break it up, and asked them why they were not in school, and whether it was because they did not want to learn? They insisted that they very much did want to learn actually, because they wanted to be able to work, and Madame Stella took this as an opportunity to invite them for a lesson in sewing the next day. She told them that they should come back at the same time the next day, with old clothes which they had scrubbed clean overnight.
The next day, at 2 o’clock as arranged, they arrived with their material and learnt to sew buttons. Impressed with their eagerness she asked them what else they would like to learn, and they said that they wanted to be able to speak English. So, using the walls of her house as a whiteboard, and charcoal as a pen, she began to teach them their alphabet, and so the programme began!
Within three days the number of students had increase to eight, and from there it just kept rising. Madame Stella found help in an assembly man, who joined her in teaching to allow two classes. Her school grew until by 2 o’clock everyday girls could be seen walking to her house from many different towns in all directions, and she did her best always to accommodate each of them.
As her group grew Madame Stella approached the bank for money to buy more chairs, however the bank manager told her that she couldn’t, as she was in debt. He suggested she talk to an NGO about her project to find funding, and so she found herself in a taxi to action aid.
Fortunately they were able to help, and she was able to expand her programme. She tells of the moment that she put the first check in the bank, which felt to her like an official beginning, and with her new bank account she christened the project ‘Gigdev’.
Now the project has been running for 15 years, and management has passed to Stella’s daughter due to further problems with her legs. Girls who come from far away are provided with a dormitory to sleep in, somewhere where they are allowed to sing and dance (unlike with previous landlords)! They study English, maths, sewing, hairdressing and cookery, with international volunteers leading the maths and English. All of this is kept in check by Madame Stella and her keen eye, watching from her home across the road!
As well as tugging on our heart strings, this story has brought us fresh motivation for our project aimed at increasing the livelihoods of young boys.
 Onwards and upwards we go!
By Beccy