Did you know that school clubs can play a role in child development and protection? I learned that this week in my interview with Ruth Mlay, the Executive Director of Femina Hip, as we sat down to reflect on this year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child (DAC). Our discussion spanned over several issues; all around the national call to enhance protection and equal opportunities for children.
Femina Hip is a household name in Tanzania. For more than 20 years this youth focused organisation has provided adolescents and young people with knowledge to understand their growth process and deal with accompanying challenges, as well as motivation to adopt positive behaviours that can support their self-discovery, decision making, goal setting, and association with others. Through their Fema magazine and Fema Clubs, millions of Tanzanians can relate to this name with accolades and gratitude.
Ruth and I talked about the Fema Clubs, the most popular school clubs in Tanzania, and I got to learn that currently there are more than 2400 of them across then country, directly engaging hundreds of thousands of students every year.
In a nutshell, what is a Fema Club?
A Fema Club is a space that facilitates the coming together of adolescents, young women and young men, in safe, structured settings. It is a place where these children can collectively read and discuss Fema magazine in an active learning environment, the space also provides them with a way of organizing themselves to conduct activities and projects that are important to them, guided by committed trained teacher-mentors.
The Fema Clubs have become a forum for demonstrating and practicing critical thinking, teamwork, leadership, self-esteem, presentation and debating skills. Additionally, they are the embryos of civil society organizing.
The majority of Fema Clubs have become self-organizing, taking the initiative to form networks and initiate festivals on their own accord. The core activities of Fema clubs are generally centered on the standard ideals of Femina Hip and lessons from our flagship magazine, Fema.
A typical Fema Club is a space where students want to be; it is fun, educative, and empowering. Their teacher mentors are always there to provide unwavering support. The magazine reaches them with information that adds their knowledge on sexual reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment, and citizen engagement.
The package embeds life skills, appreciating that these are important for every aspect of a young person’s life. The magazine also packs practical ideas so that those reading it can consider taking action to better their situation or that of others in their community.
Why is DAC important to Femina Hip?
Our core business is with and for children and young people. Most of the girls and boys in the Fema Clubs are below the age of 18. Equally, their peers who benefit indirectly from our interventions are of the same age. It is important to celebrate children.
Feeling valued plays a role in how a child develops their character, in how they learn, how they deal with emotions and what choices they make. We at Femina Hip believe that young people have a voice, children have a voice.
They also have the power to influence change and the ability to create solutions, but they need to be supported with the right knowledge and environment. The Day of the African Child reminds us to consider all this with renewed commitment.
In the Femina Hip family, today we celebrate all the Fema Clubbers who took action to report violence committed to their peers, and most importantly those who are doing their very best to prevent violence of all forms by educating their communities. Those are our heroes today.
What is it that the Fema Clubs are doing today?
Fema Clubs across the country have organised various activities around the theme of the year for this day. It is their opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions about issues that affect their safety, suggest solutions, and discuss how they can themselves play a role in exposing or preventing abuse and violence against children.
Some have prepared morning talks at school while others have invited guest speakers. There are some that have prepared edutaining presentations such as theatre plays, and they will deliver those to community audiences at various levels.
Is child protection an impossible task?
No, it is not. It is a right that must be given, at all cost. It is also a responsibility that must be met. Our children look up to every one of us to feel safe and feel that their future is secure and promising.
We have the power in our decisions, plans and actions to ensure our children are protected from all forms of violence. Let’s start at family level. Studies show that there is an alarming rate of sexual abuse that is happening to children in their own homes; children abused by their own relatives and close family acquaintances; the people they trust. How can that be acceptable in a family? How can perpetrators be allowed to get away with that?
We can change this. We can get more intentional in our resolve. Parents need to talk more to their children and be open to listen to what they have to say. We need to provide children with the tools, platforms, and motivation to report these incidences.
Authorities at all levels should enforce the laws and guidelines enacted to task offenders. Businesses need to assess whether their products are safeguarding children or promoting abusive behavior against child safety. As a nation we need to talk about this as a big issue. We need to coordinate efforts for better and effective results.
About the Day of the African Child
In 1991, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then OAU instituted the Day of the African Child (DAC) in memory of the June 16, 1976 student uprising in Soweto, South Africa. At that time, students marched in protest the poor quality of education they received and demanded to be taught in their own languages.
The DAC serves to commemorate these children and the brave action they took in defence of their right. The day has since been commemorated to celebrate the children of Africa, calling for reflection and commitment towards addressing the numerous challenges facing children across the continent.
How can one take meaningful action today?
Everyone has a role to play. Since its adoption by the African Union in 1991, the DAC has been assigned various themes to help focus individual and collective efforts towards observing the rights of children.
The 2022 theme asks everyone to do something about enhancing child protection and expanding equal opportunities for children. Here are some ideas of what you can do to support the efforts.
• Hold a community meeting to discuss child protection; how can children be protected from violence, discrimination, and other harmful practices?
• Host a radio/tv/online discussion about ways to enhance child protection and equal opportunities for children.
• Talk to your family about these issues; it begins at home. Allow children to speak. Listen to them, don’t discourage or correct their views. They have a right to express themselves and be heard.
• Report an incident of child abuse that you have witnessed. Gender and Children Desks at police stations are dedicated to responding to such cases. This is your responsibility as an active citizen.
• Promote the 116 hotline so that children who experience abuse or violence can call the number to report and to get support.
• Use your social media space to promote The Day of the African Child theme and messages.
• In workplaces, invite your colleagues to use your lunch hour reflecting on the role you can play to protect children.
• Incorporates and other organisations, dedicate today to revisiting your child safeguarding and protection stance; do you have any policies and guidelines? Are they up to today’s realities? If you don’t, take action, make a policy and live by it.
• Find out more about how this day is celebrated in other countries; is there anything you can borrow and make it work in your environment?
• Don’t do nothing.
Who is a Fema Clubber?
Fema clubbers are generally defined in terms of moral and ethical characters/behaviors, successes and capabilities, and skills. Major ones include confidence, volunteerism, hardworking, spirit of entrepreneurship, self-drive/initiative, self-awareness, and a strong conception of self, talented and entertaining, peer educator, problem solver, good academic performance, of high moral standard, and disciplined.
The Fema magazine
The Fema magazine has been produced and printed quarterly for more that 20 years in Tanzania. It has one of the largest print runs and is one of the most popular and well-known magazines in the country. It is distributed to both secondary schools (Fema Clubs), Folk Development Colleges, local government, and civil society partners across Tanzania. The magazine content includes sections on all of Femina Hip’s strategic agendas: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Economic Empowerment, Citizen Engagement and Youth Connect.
Femina Hip employs a social and behaviour change (SBCC) approach to curating the magazine. SBCC is defined as the process of interactively communicating with individuals, institutions, communities, and societies as part of an overall programme of information dissemination, motivation, problem solving and planning. Fema magazine’s long shelf life allows individuals to go through the process of behaviour change slowly as they can refer to the magazine multiple times.