AN 18-YEAR-OLD from Orpington is 4,000 miles from home, helping to improve the lives of women and girls in Ziniaré, Burkina Faso.
To coincide with International Women’s Day on Wednesday, Maddy Furness is speaking out about her experience and encouraging other young Brits to get involved.
Maddy, a former Darrick Wood Secondary School pupil, has been working as part of a team of young British and Burkinabé volunteers on a project to increase women’s economic empowerment, enabling them to run profitable and sustainable businesses.
47% of Burkina’s population live below the poverty line, while the average life expectancy for women is just 60, more than 20 years below the UK. Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population, but are often more deeply affected by poverty than their male counterparts.
In rural Burkina Faso, many women have no means of earning an independent income, which makes them more vulnerable to poverty, and stops them reaching their full potential. Many women and girls also receive little or no sexual education, meaning they often fall pregnant and leave school early.
Maddy and her team mates have been working with rights-based development charity, International Service, and its partner organisation Kabeela. Kabeela supports women to increase their literacy, their financial independence and their awareness of their rights.
Maddy and her team have been working with Kabeela members to produce and market their shea butter products to increase their income. They have also been delivering awareness raising sessions on HIV/AIDS, dengue fever, sexual health and other relevant topics to the wider community.
Maddy travelled to Burkina Faso through the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, funded by UK aid.
Maddy explained: “One of the things that struck me the most when I came to Guilongou was the large amount of young mothers. This is why we’ve found it vital to go to schools and deliver awareness raising sessions on sexual and reproductive health.
“We’ve now reached over 500 young adults at two different schools. Now that more young people know about contraception, young women can focus on pursuing a career and supporting themselves, rather than having to take care of a baby from a young age.
“We’ve also made sure to support the women who already have children to care for. A local tailor who I’ve befriended, Sandrine, has a beautiful baby girl, and it felt amazing to see her at our awareness raising session on breastfeeding and malnutrition. Sandrine still manages to find the time to work, making beautiful dresses for me and other women in the community, while raising a happy, healthy baby. Holding that baby girl and making her laugh reminds me why I came here in the first place.”
ICS volunteers work alongside young local volunteers in some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America on issues like sexual health, education and economic empowerment. You don’t need cash, skills or qualifications to take part – just the ambition to make a difference. More than 1800 young people from Greater London have already worked on ICS projects around the world.
Maddy adds: “After finishing my A Levels, I knew that I wanted to help people whatever way I could. ICS has been a fantastic opportunity to do this, while experiencing an entirely new culture. Looking at women’s rights in Burkina Faso has given me a fresh point of view.
“It’s so important to consider social inequalities in developing countries, as well as in the UK. I can’t find sense in only ever fighting for justice in your own country, while never giving other places a second thought. ICS is a programme that every young person should consider.”
For more information about ICS and how to apply visit www.volunteerics.org