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Girl power in Tanzania

Jennifer Abrahamson |

HIV and AIDS

I first met the young women on a sunny Monday morning as they sat under a tree in front of a teachers’ training center in Newala, a town so far south in Tanzania that if you stand at its highest point, you can see Mozambique. I came here to begin ICRW’s work on a project in which we’re trying to understand and address some of the situations that make adolescent girls vulnerable to HIV.

The nine young women awaiting me and my colleagues with ICRW’s partner organization, TAMASHA, were dressed in bright head scarves of earthy blues, greens and reds. Everyone had tentative half-smiles on their faces. We’d spend a week with these young women, training them to be our research interns. They will interview 12- to 17-year-old girls in four local communities about their lives and their risk of HIV infection. We’ll take what we learn from these adolescents and design ways for TAMASHA to intervene.

The training was quite a change of pace for our interns, who usually spend their days at home helping with household duties. By the end of the week, they were exhausted from a full schedule, learning new skills and taking on roles they’d never been invited to play – as leaders and people with important opinions to share. Despite their exhaustion, I also felt a dramatic shift in their energy. They were now comfortable speaking in front of a room full of their peers and adults. They confidently engaged in intense conversations about their experiences and debates about the most appropriate ways to address the risks – like being raped – that confront them daily. And they clearly formed strong connections to each other, bonds that were evident through impromptu songs they sang together daily.

As I was packing to leave, the girls formed a circle and began to sing a song in Swahili about the departing mzungu (foreigner). Though I couldn’t understand a word, it was pretty clear that they considered me a part of their journey. And I know they are part of mine. I feel so invested in their success. Meeting these girls I’d tried so many times to imagine made for a particularly memorable trip, worth every mosquito bite and every moment of jet lag.

Research interns in Tanzania.

 
Jennifer Abrahamson
Jennifer Abrahamson

Jennifer Abrahamson is a strategic communications, policy advocacy and humanitarian media expert with on the ground experience in 25 developing and conflict-affected countries worldwide. Prior to joining ICRW in 2011 as its Senior Director of Strategic Communications, Jennifer worked for Oxfam International, Oxfam GB and the United Nations World Food Program, among other international organizations. She is also an author of a book of non-fiction about the civilian cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, published by Simon and Schuster in 2006, and has worked as a freelance journalist and photographer from Africa.

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