The story of Matilda Agambire
By Innocent Kafembe, Communication Officer-UNICEF Ghana
Matilda is a peer educator in her community working with Youth Harvest Foundation, a local UNICEF supported community based organisation based in Bolgatanga, Upper East region of Ghana. Matilda says “I love to volunteer and enjoy giving my time to save girls from the lure of early marriage and forced marriage”.
Matilda lives with her mother in Bongo- Soe Community and is currently an “ambassador” for the campaign against child marriage in her area. She has received training in life skills, HIV prevention and counselling from Youth Harvest Foundation as part of her training.
Child marriage and pregnancy
Here in Ghana, 1 in 4 women are married before the age of 18. However, the Upper East region where Matilda comes from child marriage is higher than the natural average. At least 1 in 4 (27%) women are married before the age of 18. The Upper East region where Matilda comes from has the highest child marriage rate at 39.2%.
Child marriage presents many consequences to young girls. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 in many countries. It also affects their wellbeing and reduces their chance of attaining education as most schools in Ghana will not accept girls that are pregnant and the girls are shy to go back to school after giving birth.
Challenging tradition in Upper East, Ghana
Matilda called off her marriage to a local who is man twice her age after attending sessions held by a Youth Harvest peer educator in her community. “It occurred to me after the Youth Harvest sessions that marriage was not the only way” she says. She had agreed to the marriage as a way to earn an income and fund her studies.
“The man was very angry and pleaded with me to reconsider when I told him I was not going to marry him anymore”, she said.
Matilda continued to assist the then peer educator in her community and went on to be recruited to serve in the same role in her community. To her joy Youth Harvest also enrolled her for remedial lessons at their office school and she wrote and passed her exams. “I passed my exams and I am now the only person in my family to attend senior high school”, she says with a smile.
Empowering young girls
Her work is challenging but interesting. “I spend most of my time in the villages and schools holding sensitisation meetings with young girls and boys and sharing ideas on how to stay safe and in school”, she says. Matilda received a bicycle and a backpack from her organisation and with these she has become a common sight around her community
UNICEF, through a grant from the Canadian government is supporting Youth Harvest Foundation and together they have empowered many young girls like Matilda in the Upper East region Ghana. The peer educators trained are hugely influential in their communities and they have made a mark.
According to District Girls Education Officer Rita Abamah, “cases of child marriage are coming up and being dealt with more urgently because of these peer educators. I have assisted many girls to return to school after pregnancy and facilitated the arrest of perpetrators of forced marriage through their efforts”
Woman on a mission
Matilda says “I don’t regret not marrying that man. Now I can pursue my dreams and forget about marriage until the time is right”.
Matilda has just concluded a case in her village and she is very proud of her achievement. She identified a young girl in her village that was about to get married as a result of poverty. “I appealed to the family to cancel the marriage and let her go back to school” she says. “I gave them an example of my story”.
The girl had failed school and was willing to be married early as instructed by her parents. She even avoided Matilda at first but in the end her family agreed to let the girl continue with school and living at the family compound.
Matilda is determined to serve young girls in the Bongo-Soe community and to fulfil her personal dreams. “I want to study food and home economics. One day I will own and run my own restaurant”, she concluded.