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How Community Coaches Break Barriers to Education

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Carine, 18, sits shoulder-to-shoulder with friends and watches as Right To Play-trained Community Coach Anna Marie demonstrates how to wash a reusable menstrual pad.

Anna Marie leads a Right To Play Girls’ Club, where Carine and her peers learn about reproductive health, resisting early marriage, and the importance of staying in school.

Talking about periods is a new experience for Carine. Because of strong cultural taboos, the subject is often surrounded by shame and secrecy. Period stigma is the reason many girls start their period without understanding the changes happening to their bodies – and without the products they need.

“When girls don’t have the means for getting sanitary pads, they decide to stay home from school during their period,” says Carine.

But that’s all changed. With access to pads, Carine feels comfortable and focused at school. And that’s not all she’s feeling. Dancing, singing, and playing football with Coach Anna Marie at the Girls’ Club helped Carine unlock confidence and a belief that she belongs – in school and wherever her ambitions take her.

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Carine, third from the left, watches Anna Marie demonstrate how to wash a reusable menstrual pad.

SHIFTING BELIEFS, CHANGING COMMUNITIES

Right To Play-trained Coaches like Anna Marie play an important role in the lives of children and youth. They act as positive role models and trusted adults, leading Girls’ Clubs, Junior Leadership Clubs, and community activities that teach young people to claim their rights and become leaders.

Anna Marie is a volunteer Community Coach in Burundi with the My Education, My Future project funded by Global Affairs Canada. The project is based in Gisuru, which is home to a large population of returnees – Burundians who fled the country during periods of political unrest and have now returned home.

For returnee children, getting back into school can be an uphill battle due to localized violence, displacement, and poverty. Many children, especially girls, are encouraged by their parents to drop out of school if their family is experiencing economic hardship. Children with disabilities face added pressures of social stigma that say a disability is something to be ashamed of, and they should stay hidden at home.

Anna Marie volunteered to be a Coach alongside fellow community members Fulgence and Marcelina. The three changemakers attended Right To Play trainings on topics like gender equality, child protection, and menstrual health. They took what they learned into communities to shift beliefs and norms that create barriers to education for girls and children with disabilities.

They’ve had an impact.

In the communities where Right To Play works, 100% of parents say they understand how to respond to barriers to education, up from 44% at the start of the project. Sixty-eight percent of community members are now supportive of children with disabilities attending school, up from 14%. Since the project began, more than 2,300 children have returned to playful, inclusive, quality learning.

Watch how Anna Marie, Fulgence, and Marcelina work with youth, parents, and community members to make sure girls and children with disabilities have the chance to stay in school and succeed.


MEET ANNA MARIE

On top of menstrual management, Anna Marie teaches Carine and other Girls' Club members to believe in themselves and their abilities. She doesn't want anything to stand in the way of their education and dreams.

We taught [girls] how they should be free in speaking everything they feel like doing, whether it is playing football or speaking in public. We taught them not to be ashamed. They are to be confident and feel like they are equal to boys. Those who had dropped out of schools and received our trainings are thinking of returning to schools, because we teach them about the benefit a girl child gets for her future life when she returns to school.

Anna Marie helps girls and young women challenge limiting beliefs about themselves.

MEET FULGENCE

Fulgence knows that many parents don’t send their children with disabilities to school out of fear that their child won’t be accepted by the community or accommodated in the classroom. He makes home visits to let parents know that Right To Play-trained teachers use play-based learning to create nurturing and inclusive environments for students of all abilities.

We identify the family that has a school-aged child who is not enrolled. We plan to visit the family and politely ask to meet with the head of that family and introduce ourselves. We start by asking the family member the age of the child and, if it is appropriate for them to be enrolled in school, the reason why they are not enrolled.

The problem is when parents believe that they cannot take a child with a disability to any school, not knowing if there is an appropriate school for them. We inform parents to enroll their children, sharing that there are teachers who will assist them. We told them that their child is also able and has the right to an education.

Fulgence goes door to door encouraging families with children who are out of school to send them back.

MEET MARCELINA 

Through community sensitization meetings, Marcelina helps parents understand how forced marriage, violence, and gender discrimination stand in the way of girls staying in school and improving their lives. She also visits schools in the community, where she's seen students attending more regularly and staying motivated by play-based learning in inclusive classrooms.

Before this training, for the children I have and others I have seen in the community, girls were not going to school. Those who went to school, after reaching a certain age, left and got married. The change is that we are seeing girls in schools. They attend schools well. There are not many absences. Even when I advise them to go to school, they listen and respond positively.

Marcelina took her own advice and brought her daughter Jeanine back to school.


My Education, My Future is a program that aims to improve access to and the quality of education for primary school-aged children, especially girls, affected by the Burundian refugee crisis. The program has been active in Tanzania and Burundi since 2020 and is made possible with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

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