Program Brings Hope to Vulnerable Adolescent Girls in Guinea
N'Zerekore, Guinea, 9 June 2004-The IRC has launched a program in eastern Guinea to provide vocational and literacy training to vulnerable adolescent girls in refugee camps and their host communities. Most of the girls participating in the program have previously worked in the sex industry.
"The typical girl is around sixteen years old, may be infected with HIV/AIDS, is illiterate, has no permanent home and usually has at least one child already," says Rebecca Winthrop, the IRC's education program manager. "The program combines vocational training with counselling to help these young women cope with their past experiences while developing new skills to change their lives."
Through the program, the girls have started receiving training in business management, computer literacy, English, French, secretarial skills and tailoring. They also receive health education courses and are supported in various small-scale income generation activities.
The project is being implemented in Guinea's eastern N'Zerekore region in conjunction with the local aid organization, Today's Women International Network (TWIN). TWIN has been working with young girls in this community since 2002. The group focuses on preventing gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS transmission, female genital mutilation and sexual exploitation.
As part of the IRC-sponsored program, TWIN's staff members scan streets, bars, nightclubs and hotels to identify especially vulnerable adolescents-mainly young women in the sex trade-and encourage them to participate in the program.
"When my husband abandoned me with my children, I felt forced to sell sex," explains 22-year old Juliana, who is enrolled in a TWIN sewing class. "But TWIN has helped me to stop the sex work. Their support has helped me feel strong and to be a good mother to my children."
N'Zerekore is not only home to an estimated 50,000 refugees from war-torn Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire, but also houses vast numbers of impoverished Guineans who are returning from Cote d'Ivoire in large numbers.
"This area is poverty-stricken and suffers from the kind of broken social fabric that comes with long-time instability and conflict," Winthrop notes.
The program, which has so far assisted 200 women and girls, is funded by the Alcoa Foundation, a global organization that actively invests in improving the quality of life for populations in need in more than 30 countries around the world.
The IRC has assisted refugees and host communities in Guinea since 1991, with shelter, education, health care, psychosocial assistance and tracing and reunification for war-separated families.