Girls world communication center Trying to create young leaders [Archives:2003/661/Culture]
Yemen has a young population. Almost half of Yemen's population is represented by children under age of 16. Unfortunately, illiteracy amongst these children is extremely high as more than one third of all boys can not read or write. Illiteracy amongst girls is even higher as more than two thirds of all girls are illiterate! The high illiteracy rates, especially amongst girls, are due to social, cultural and financial restraints preventing many girls from attaining any education.
The girls world communication center was established in 1998 as a non-profitable organization by Ms. Carin Meerburg-Wieringa, the wife of Dutch Ex-ambassador and Ms. Antelak al-Mutawakil, the head of board of directors
The center aims to improve educational facilities and increase local opportunities for girls in Sana'a.
GWCC offers five courses, the “Gap” year course, “Thursday” course, Computer and Internet courses, summer course and French language. However, the most important and unique one is the “Gap-year-course.”
Gap Year program
It is compulsory for all Yemeni girls to take a year-off after graduation from high school. They are prevented from continuing their studies within a public university of finding employment. The government provides no alternative during this period for girls, unlike boys who undertake their military service. The result of this compulsory gap-year is that many girls become confined to their homes during this period. The reasons being mainly social pressure preventing them from socializing in public places, attending courses and seminars in mixed environments. The lack of safe environment for the girls, prevents them from going out of home. So GWCC has adopted a gap- year program.
We met Ms. Entelak al-Mutawakil who said, ” What we are experiencing is not teaching English and computer courses but also through English we teach a lot of topics related to our society for example we are dealing with environment, water and health. Thus we have established our own curriculum in health with the help of Dr. Sawsan al-Refai a specialist as well as establish our own curriculum in water and environment and we are planning to add a curriculum for human rights particularly women rights by next year. So the students are related to the topics of Yemen. What are the problems that we face and what the diseases that are common and by our way of teaching and style the students are going to contact their families and neighborhood. The students have questionnaires and by the gap year program, they have research course within they learn how they make a research and how to do footnotes of their academic research and how to search through Internet and how to do a field research by doing a questionnaire. Dr. al-Refai gave this course to the last batch and we give it today by Ms. Catherine. The research course includes interesting topics. By these way we are introducing students to the local topics of the society and how to deal with them scientifically not only taking them. This is a step to the university in which they learn how to do a research and how to search for information and how to deal in academic way and how to be very accurate in giving information. So we had actually very good researches last year and we expect very good researches from the student of the second batch.”
About the gap year program she said “This program for high school-graduates. We have scholarship from Canadians and international women organizations. So 54 students have applied to us. It is pity that we could not take all them because we cannot fund all of them. The Canadians fund 10 girls for scholarships but also to have more girls we agreed with Canadians that 6 girls are in full-scholarships and 8 in half-scholarships that the parents have to pay a half and the Canadians to pay the other half. This is the way of participation in society. The center also has funded a girl for scholarship and also grant subsidies. What we are asking the independent girl is not the fee. They pay but not the fee. The center subsidies pay the rest of the fee. We also have them to pay in installments according to the financial statue of the family. They also can work with us instead of paying to us. Another thing that we have the work experience through they study with us and they have to work for hours with us. They learn a lot of things at the center and some of them who are interested in working with other organizations they arrange with us. We try to build cooperation with other organizations if they need our girls to be employees with them. Our girls really finish their gap year and they are qualified. Most of the last batch graduated run the center such as the accountant, the person who takes care about internet and the library are also our students of the last batch. What I feel that this program was very successful. We helped really girls who are underprivileged and they are happy and now they work part time and study at university and some of them haven't dreamt about this.
In our criteria we are asking for the girls who are really distinguished, already motivated and for scholarships we have one criterion that they can afford. We also have a contract with them, if they stop half- way they have to pay back all the money spent on them during studies. Our program is based actually on a survey that we have made in pubic and private schools. We have given them questionnaires and ask them what they wanted to do in the gap year program. Most of them prefer to study computer and English language, as they become really important tools to have more opportunities.
We have actually two philosophies that we depend on to run the center. One is “Don't give me a fish, teach me how to fish” and this is one thing we try to do with the girls. We try to qualify them with those tools they need to have a work. That's why we choose these young girls. We decide to focus on those young girls, as we believe that if these groups are provided with more opportunities early enough they can be really good leaders. One of our main objectives in our gap year program is to create young leaders and that's why from our point of view we added a follow-up year. Now the girls that have really graduated meet monthly with Dr. Rawia al-Kumaim, our academic director, do some projects. For example what the criteria of being a leader. With this year batch we intend to give them intensive study and make a two -year-follow-up. We are expecting social young leaders in the field of environment, health, water and human rights. We try also to get as a center, invitations from organizations to engage these girls in their activities. So they are related to our own society and its problems as early as enough as we here in Yemen like get married early, bring children quickly before even see and have a vision what our future is. If we then start to think about future, it sometimes will be too late. You have 6-7 children and so busy and you cannot do it. So it is good to have a vision of future before, to know exactly what you want. We target these young girls as we hope to make something of them.
About difficulties that may hinder their work she said, “I was not expecting that life is not really difficult. But really when we started establishing the center it was much easier. I mean I find a lot of cooperation from individuals and government as well as international organizations. The beginning took time to convince others to work with us. But really I cannot say that we do not face major difficulties. About money our policy is to basically run the center from our income; pay teachers and pay the rent from our income. That's why we have put reasonable income. Moreover, really we help those who cannot pay by giving them scholarships, employment or discount. We do not really depend on donors. Donors have helped a lot in the foundation and in the capacity building and all of them are wonderful. Actually I am surprised how good people both collective and individuals how they help us. Of course there are minor difficulties, we have to be careful with money but everything is going on. I feel that we are going on, developing and progressing and we are getting help from different places even from individuals. Now many people trust the center either they sponsored underprivileged girls in their neighborhood or they pay the alms tax (Zaka). If we start making our money in very organized charity in a very organized way then we can develop the society.
We have volunteer teachers that also support our finance.
Another main objective is that we try to qualify our teachers focusing on Yemeni teachers by holding training courses or sending them to British Council as well as encourage them to progress so that we ask them to take Tofel first here at the center and then go to the AMIDEST to take the Tofel officially. So we are trying to qualify teachers either to teach here or in another place and it does not make difference as they are in Yemen. We try to cooperate with organizations.
We are very open with parents about how much they can pay. We send also to the public schools to accept some girls and telling them our criteria.
We have also the summer camp, we call it open-house day in which parents come and see a lot of activities. “
She concluded “We are very proud of this program and we hope that this program can be a model for private or governmental sectors to help those who can duplicate such a program. We do not want to make it exclusive. We are aiming that other organizations will do it and that's our objective from the beginning.
Our policy from the beginning why we do not give education of the girls in not mixed way first and then it up to them if they want coeducation. Some families will not allow their girls to go to co-education schools and such girls really lose education and as a result they cannot compete in the market. After getting education they can do many things by their own.”
With students and teachers
Dr. Swasan al-Refai, volunteer teacher “The center is concerned mainly with teaching and qualifying girls. Many centers today provide English language training, computer and inter -training as well. However, here we are concerned with the comprehensive process of qualifying girls. We qualify them not only to speak good language, computer and Internet but also to have confidence in themselves and to get enrolled in several activities to get other fields of study like health, water and environmental preservations. Sometimes I teach some specialized courses such as preparation for Tofel, conversation classes research methodology. Generally speaking, I am volunteering to arrange types of activities whether related to health or water. I mainly concerned with health topics. I prepare health curriculum including health information that may help the girls. One hand, they practice English and on the other hand they know some basic information about health. I start the idea and other teachers involve in this process because other teachers are excited to give information about health and environment. Nowadays, we have anti-smoking campaign in which the participants are competing by poetry, poems, and paintings. It is actually awareness program in the center and involving people from outside. The whole idea of the volunteer work is to encourage people participate in aware other people. When we give advice about smoking or any health problems and preserving environment and saving water. The girls go out to the community and spread these information.”
I also met some of the diploma students whose English language remarkably is wonderful.
Amat al-Rauf Hassan, said “I entered this institute last year in the diploma and I have learned a lot of things. First of all how to fluently speak English and use the computer and internet. The most important that I really get is the experience of work. Because while I am studying, I also work in the library of GWCC. I consider the institute the second home for me. When I come here I feet that I am at home with my family”
She added “Before joining this center I was very shy, I cannot talk and I cannot deal with other people. However, after coming here Ms. Kabool, taught me a lot; how to speak with people and deal with them and be friendly as well as work accurately”
Hayat Sharaf , diploma student, said ” We have been studying a year for diploma. We have learned English in high schools but not as well as we do here. Our English really has been improving and we learn many skills. They always teach us many health projects that really benefit us. I feel really good as I have joined this institute. The center has changed me and given me a confidence in myself. I was afraid to say a sentence in English but now I can speak and communicate through English.”
Hanan Mohammed, diploma student, “I am very happy because I have joined this institute. I have learned how to speak and write English and how to express my ideas in English besides learning computer and Internet. It was my wish to learn English and when I join this center I like it and the teachers and the way of teaching.”
Eshraq al-Alwai, diploma student, “My English has improved than before and I learned more skills in computer and Internet. I feel proud of being in the center”