Women in Benin have become accustomed to society stigmatizing, demeaning, and mistreating them. We are forced to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities, reach out to others all on our own. Some of the young women Batonga mentors in rural communities face mistreatment and abuse. Experiencing these situations can lead these young women into internalizing trauma and keeping to themselves, unable to ask for support and help when needed. These kinds of patterns can greatly affect their future. When constantly exposed to painful experiences such as lack of affection, academic failures or family conflicts, young women tend to isolate themselves and develop low self-esteem. In most cases family and friends do not act as supportive forces, because our culture in Benin dictates that girls do not have the right to speak. In instances where women do speak out, they are belittled and sometimes threatened in front of their peers, making them retreat in their shell. This belittling also discourages others from speaking out. In Benin, our cultures and religions, do not give women the chance to express themselves or provide the necessary support for them to enhance their potential. As a member of Batonga’s team, I am dedicating my life to try and change that.
For years Batonga has been identifying these patterns and providing adolescent girls with opportunities to get help and support to find the strength to appreciate, celebrate, and trust themselves. Our goal is to build the self-confidence of adolescent girls, so they can thrive and be in charge of their life-decisions. We have learned how important it is to help adolescent girls build their self-esteem. Personal value is the first key to developing self-confidence. It will be difficult to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities and reach out to others if you do not have confidence in yourself. Self-confidence is often the answer for not only feeling better about oneself but becoming more in control of one’s life by speaking up when you are being mistreated. Indeed, speaking in public, asserting yourself with those closest to you, gaining the respect of your colleagues and friends can be very difficult to achieve if you do not have confidence in yourself.
One of the many things mentors teach girls is to love and celebrate themselves, as well as to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing. They discuss nutrition and exercising, and how to embrace one’s body and love yourself unconditionally. We also discuss mental health and wellbeing, and help them develop strong trust relationships with their mentors and peers. Gradually, we see girls transform their insecurities into strengths.
Adolescent girls thrive when their families and parents support them. Unfortunately, many parents are unable to do so and as a result, their child grows up alone. Having no one to confide in, they develop shyness and miss out on opportunities that they could have used to better themselves. When they encounter difficult situations, they tend to feel they can’t overcome them and end up internalizing themselves as failures.
The Batonga Foundation works to build the voices of the girls so that they can confidently express what they feel. Women should be integrated into their society and take on more leadership roles, and supporting them to gain self-confidence can help fast-track this process, Batonga has established training plans that give adolescent girls the opportunity to build their intrinsic value and confidently make their own decisions. Batonga works for the development of girls and offers them opportunities to speak in safe spaces and boost their morale and positivity no matter what circumstance they may face. Through various learning techniques, Batonga enables the girls to discover their strengths and supports them to undertake attainable goals. It is wonderful to see the growth of the young girls and hear of their successes. They are happy to say:
“I can make my own decision”, ”I can speak in front of the public without being afraid”, “I have the same right as everyone”, “my views count in my family”, “As a woman I can bring a lot to my community.”
These are all comments from girls that three years ago could not even lift their heads to give their name. They are able to say “NO” and use techniques taught by their mentors to escape harmful situations. They have become more confident and taken on leadership roles in their communities. The girls and young women Batonga serves have become role models for other girls in their communities and beyond.
Examples of successful women are provided through the Batonga mentors to motivate the girls and young women we serve. Similar to the girls and young women, Batonga mentors are able to develop their own self-esteem thanks to the leadership training they receive. We use games, theatre plays, and many other interactive and participatory activities for mentors to engage with the training material. I have seen many mentors use the techniques they have learned and overtime become more confident and comfortable with public speaking.
Self-confidence is not innate, but is acquired over time with the support of others. I am so proud to be working with Batonga mentors directly, and to be supporting their daily work to help build girls’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Together, we are putting these girls on the path to a more successful and fulfilling life. So they can all reach their full potential.
Written by: Cherifatou Gounou, Batonga Program Manager (Mentors Network)