Neil Gaiman, the author of M is for Magic, once said, “Stories you read when you’re the right age never quite leave you. You may forget who wrote them or what the story was called. Sometimes you’ll forget precisely what happened, but if a story touches you it will stay with you, haunting the places in your mind that you rarely ever visit.”
Stories that we read, write, or hear can have a powerful effect, whether they are real or imagined. No matter how we hear or read a story, we can always manage to find someone in the story (or a part of the story) that we connect with. In a call center in Nigeria, the power of storytelling has taken on a new form, called Girls Connect. According to their website, Girls Connect is “a pioneering platform that allows girls to access information, conversations, and one-on-one mentoring that is designed to enrich their lives.”
When a girl calls the number for the hotline, they gain access to four different stories, each containing four chapters. After listening to the stories, performed by professional radio actors, they are connected to trained specialists, called role models. These role models, all of whom are women, work with the girls in order to talk through the story they just heard together.
The role models ask questions like, “is this something that someone you know has experienced before? If you thought a girl was put in danger by someone, what advice would you give her?” The trained professionals aim to help these young girls work through any similar issues that they might be facing. They also hope to provide some education about these issues, and how the girls might go about solving them.
Iveren Shinshima, a Role Model for Girls Connect, told TIME, “It’s really challenging being a girl in Nigeria today. We talk about how she can stay safe, while making money. How she can budget. How she can avoid cyber bullying. Whether it comes to making money, using social media, or your relationship with your environment, the message we are trying to instill is that you are valuable as a girl.”
The initiative was brought about by a partnership between ISON, one of Africa’s largest IT companies, and Girl Effect. Ramesh Awtaney, the founder and chairman of ISON, told TIME, “In the customer service industry we try and resolve your problem by putting you in touch with an automated machine. If the machine can’t help, you are connected to an agent. So the thinking was that we could replicate this process for girls in the context of giving them information on relationships, medical problems, education, and social media, etcetera.”
Farah Ramzan Golant, the CEO of Girls Effect, also shared, “What was interesting about it was how, like an interactive customer service program, Girls Connect can be scaled up very rapidly. If you combine this content with toll free numbers, the impact can be huge.”
Girls Connect is an amazing way to empower and educate young women and girls about experiences that they might not be able to talk about with anyone else. Girls Connect allows these girls to be a part of the conversation, and helps them make connections to situations that they might be experiencing in their daily lives.
Not only is the program accessible and highly effective, it also teaches these girls that they are more than just a pretty face in the crowd. Girls and women are, and always will be, valuable.
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