The Voices of African Teenage Girls during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Everything is a story and every one of us has a story inside of us waiting to be told. FEMNET continues to stand in solidarity with teenage girls across Africa and offers a brave space for African girls especially teenage girls to share their unique stories of joy, proud moments, heartaches and hurts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this brave space teenage girls echo the wise words of Maya Angelou “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”

In pursuit of ensuring that teenage girls have their agency, FEMNET conducted interviews with various teenage girls to find how they have been affected by the pandemic, whether they are managing to continue with their studies and the self-care techniques they have adapted to cope. These are personal stories highlighting teenage girls’ activism, optimism and reflections in the midst of a deadly pandemic.  Read their insightful and inspirational experiences below:

 

Meet Maimuna from Kenya. She has been terrified by COVID-19. Many girls don’t really know if they will go back to school any time soon.  She is sad and scared due to the high rate of death happening each day. During this season, Maimuna does not go outside so she keeps herself busy through online learning. Due to the lockdown, Maimuna has been close to her family than before. She misses learning in a classroom set up and interacting with her friends. Her message to other teenage girls is “Everything is going to be okay. Abide by the government directives, maintain good hygiene and stay indoors. Use social media for communication”.

 

Kate Faraj from Liberia has been feeling frustrated and bored because of the coronavirus pandemic. She misses going to school and church. She has been keeping herself occupied by raising awareness about COVID-19 in her community through an initiative called “Girls Ending COVID-19”. However, her efforts are limited because she has to be home by 3:00pm to catch up with her studies. One of Kates’s achievements during this season is being recognized in Liberia as a result of “Girls Ending COVID-19” awareness campaign. Some new lessons that Kate is carrying in the future are: unity is strength and honesty pays. She believes that it is important to be hard-working at home, at school and most of all in the society. Her message to the world is “stay safe, stay at home and follow all preventive measures. Together we can fight and conquer COVID-19”.

 

Jennifer Gatheca from Tanzania shares how on one hand she has experienced a lot of happiness when having fun with her family and on the other hand she has experienced sadness when she misses her friends and her usual routine.  At times she is even frustrated with online classes and learning from home. Sometimes she is stunned. The pandemic has provoked thoughts of how everything can change overnight. Jennifer never got to say goodbye to her friends because she thought she would see them the next day. She has been busy with classes, following her usual school timetable and attending online conference calls with her teachers and peers. She also spends time reading her favourite novels, working on assignments and watching movies. One positive thing that has happened to Jennifer during this season is understanding the importance of being grateful. She is grateful that she used to go to school, having a family and friends who care for her and simply a person to laugh with and share good times together. Grateful for having a home and food especially during this pandemic. Jennifer says she appreciates even the slightest things she has that other people are not privileged to have. When the pandemic is over Jennifer wants to continue being grateful even for every hug or handshake that she shares with her friends. Her greatest achievement in this season is being part of the Pan African Women and Girls COVID-19 Response group led by FEMNET. Some habits she will carry along in the future is the concept of always keeping her hands clean and avoiding to touch her face. This because she believes that even though the virus might be under control by then, it will still be very important to maintain hygiene. Her message to the world and other teenage girls is “always be grateful in everything. I understand that at times we may forget, which is completely okay, but I think what is really important is always finding a way back to being grateful, knowing and understanding who we are and where we came from and where we are going which is quite unknown to us. I believe it’s important to be grateful because it is worthwhile to appreciate the slightest of things leading to happiness!  Also remember it is not enough to want to make a change, you must initiate the journey towards it” Follow Jennifer on twitter: @jennifergatheca

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in her country Algeria, Besma Arbaoui was sure that it was going to be hard for the government, citizens and the healthcare system. However, she believes that if people remain optimistic and observe self-quarantine they will survive. Besma has been enjoying quality time with her family, helping people to stay positive, studying and volunteering even though it is a bit challenging. The good thing is she got a chance to start online pre-med school courses in readiness of joining school of medicine next year. She has also become a good cook, a social media influencer and writer. Bessma is proud to be connecting with great female leaders and having good time with family during this season. She is happy to be staying at home although she misses the kids and colleagues she works with as a volunteer.  Her message to all girls is “Keep up, we can make our voice heard even from home and heal the world”.  Follow her on Instagram: Katiaxrb and Facebook: Bessma Katia RB

 

Michelle Gwaikolo from Liberia has been feeling empathetic for the millions of people suffering today because of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. In her words the pandemic has been “terrorizing the entire world”. She continues to witness thousands of Liberians who don’t have the means to support themselves and their families during lockdown. Michelle is the founder of “Girls Ending COVID-19” a campaign that seeks to enlighten her community  about the coronavirus pandemic. She does this in partnership with two other teenage girls and together they have been helping other teenagers and elders to maintain safety precautions against coronavirus. Michelle has made it her obligation to raise awareness about coronavirus by dedicating two days per week to do this. Along with her friends she has reached many communities and she is happy to be influencing her country in this time of need. Michelle has experienced a lot of positive things in this season including receiving   positive remarks from the community around her. Her low moments during this lockdown was dropping out of school and the closing down of her church. However, she has learnt that working as a team helps in coping with whatever difficulties a person may face. Follow her on Instagram: Michelle16gwaikolo and Facebook: Michelle Gwaikolo

Yvonne Evy is from Uganda but she lives in Nairobi, Kenya with her family. She has been experiencing mixed feelings. On one had she is happy to be at home but on the other hand she misses physical interactions with friends at school. Her daily routine starts at 7.00am. By 8:00 am she begins online classes till 3.00pm. After classes, she takes time to do school assignments, go out for a walk in the evening, watching movies, catching up with friends, helping with house chores and sleeping. She has been able to connect with a lot of people whom she had not talked to for years and bond more with her family.  Sadly, she lost a family member during the lock down. It was a sudden death and a traumatizing experience especially due to the travel restrictions. It was difficult for her family to maintain social distancing and be emotionally strong. Fortunately, Yvonne has maintained high productivity levels and she is always getting things done. “I’m proud of that” she emphasized. During the lockdown, she has been able to engage with other adolescent girls from organisations such as Polycom Development in Kibera, Kenya. She is also in touch with 13 girls who participated in ICPD25 summit, her former classmates and a few close friends who are studying in foreign countries. Through social media (WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram) they share views and experiences about the effects of the pandemic. Her key highlight during this deadly pandemic is when she successfully passed her mock exams which she did online. In addition, she has increased her knowledge and awareness on COVID-19. She encourages other adolescent girls to use the internet to develop new life skills. Her message to all teenage girls is “treasure and cherish each and every moment as if it is your last chance because no one knows what can happen at any moment. Be patient with others and lend a helping hand where needed.  Keep a positive spirit at all times and follow the all safety procedures.” Follow her on twitter @yvonne_evy and Instagram @yvo_ev

Yvonne from Kenya is little stressed but she is managing. School has been keeping her relatively busy. As a result of online learning, her computer skills have improved significantly. Other than that, she has been taking time to explore new skills. She enjoys having more time to read, something she had missed.

Being away from all her friends has been difficult. “Being separated from them is probably the worst thing about this pandemic” she said. Her advice to other teenage girls is “don’t force productivity on yourself or convince yourself that you have make a lot of significant achievements with all this extra time. In addition, you don’t have to lose weight or become an expert in something new unless you want to. Take time to relax, spend time with your family and yourself.”

Laura from Kenya has been feeling sad for those who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic. She often wakes up quite late and this has affected her daily routine. She has been procrastinating a lot hence submitting her assignments late. She is intentionally spending more time cooking hence refining her hobby of cooking and trying to come up with new recipes. She also watches YouTube videos and still discovering other things that she is passionate about. She   has also been intentional in establishing a closer relationship with her siblings.

Her message to all girls is “let us embrace optimism and use the opportunity to establish bonds amongst us. This pandemic is just temporary. It will soon wither away. During this season let us better ourselves and reflect hence have peace of heart, soul and spirit”.

Gloria from Kenya has been trying to adapt to the new normal.  She spends time studying and learning new skills. She now has plenty of time to focus more on her studies as well as engage in some fun activities she likes to do during the holidays.

However, Gloria finds it stressful not being able to freely go out and socialise with her friends. Her message to the world is “stay strong, stay safe. Once this season is over, never let your guard down and do not allow yourself to get carried away by the material things in this world”.

 

Neema Ngesa from Kenya has been feeling many things – frustration, boredom, sadness but at times happy. Since the closure of all schools in Kenya as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Neema has been doing a lot of art because art helps her keep calm. “I LOVE art” she emphasizes. She has established a daily routine of waking up to make herself breakfast. Sometimes she spends time rearranging her room over and over, watching or making tik toks videos, drawing, painting and working on her school assignments. She pointed out that her artistic skills have improved to the extent that her mother supported her to get a personal tik tok account so that she can be sharing her art work videos online.

Neema shares one of low moment during this pandemic “I have lost many friends during this lockdown only because people started showing their true colours. Well I guess people never change, its only that the mask fell off. I have then learnt to be true to myself”. She has taken time to enhance various skills and reflect. So far, she has achieved her goal in learning how to make over ten foreign dishes. “I’m quite proud of myself”. She has learnt that God is her best friend and giving up is not an option and believing in yourself is all that it takes. She really likes sharing her experience because it helps her go back and look at how she has been fairing on during the on-going quarantine and discover that she can do much more to keep herself calm and sane. Her parting shots to fellow teenage girls “always be yourself, if you are not yourself around someone that person is not and never will be your friend”. Follow @_.artandcat._ tiktok to see her art work

Compiled by Esther Nyawira, Project Lead for Young Women and Teenage Girls, FEMNET

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