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We are pleased to announce the latest milestones resulting from our 2017-18 UK Aid Match Appeal, during which we partnered with the UK government to raise awareness of the issue of child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa. We introduced CAMFED’s unique solution, led by young women who were once themselves at risk of early marriage. The total raised during the appeal was a target-busting £2,780,616.03, including match funding from the UK government of £1,332,267.91 against donations by private UK residents. 

These donations enabled CAMFED to introduce its Learner Guide Program across 15 rural districts in Zambia. To date, 203 young women have been trained as Learner Guides, and are now active in 85 government schools, where they have already supported 7,353 marginalized children with a life skills curriculum and mentoring support. In addition, 240 bicycles have been supplied to young women for community outreach work.

Learner Guides are female role models and mentors, whose own experience means that they understand the challenges many students face -- including grief through the loss of close family members, and the pressure to marry young.

They return to their local schools to deliver a bespoke life skills and wellbeing curriculum, My Better World, which aims to improve educational outcomes for children, particularly the most vulnerable.

Beyond the classroom, Learner Guides create an important home-school link, following up with children who drop out of school, and working with communities to keep vulnerable girls safe from child marriage and other forms of abuse.

CAMFED Learner Guide Alice delivering a mentoring session.

CAMFED Learner Guide Alice delivering a mentoring session. (Photo: Eliza Powell/CAMFED)

“I couldn't tell people about the things I was going through, things that had happened to me. I didn’t feel free to tell anybody. I used to sit in the corner of the classroom and cry. But from the day I started learning [with] the My Better World book, it has changed me. I am able to stand up in front of people, talk on my behalf, stand up for myself, so thank you for the My Better World class.” - student in a Learner Guide session in Zambia

CAMFED’s Learner Guide Program is designed not only to benefit marginalized children, but also to open up opportunities for members of  the CAMFED Association - young women educated with CAMFED support - as they make the transition to secure livelihoods. As mentors, trainers and advocates these young women are earning the respect of parents, teachers, officials and local leaders. From being at the margins of their communities as children, they are becoming powerful leaders, working with traditional authorities to bring about systemic change. The focus of their work is protecting girls from early marriage and child-bearing, helping girls and boys overcome barriers to learning, and supporting children to set and achieve goals that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

“After delivering the sessions I always encourage the pupils by telling my own story. I also sensitize the learners on the importance of not involving themselves in early marriage. We work to bring child brides back to school. Because they’ve appreciated what Learner Guides are doing, the parents have committed to building a house for the Learner Guides at a school that is too far to travel to.” - Angela, CAMFED Learner Guide, Zambia

A group of recently trained Learner Guides in Zambia.

Angela (middle) with other recently trained Learner Guides. (Photo: Anke Adams/CAMFED)

This innovative scheme, which creates new opportunities for young women after leaving school, while supporting children to learn and thrive, is sustained by an incentive for Learner Guides: In return for their 18-month volunteer commitment, they gain access to interest-free loans to start local businesses (recognising their volunteering as ‘social interest’) and the opportunity to earn a vocational (BTEC) qualification as a stepping stone to formal teacher training or employment.

With support from the UK government and other donor partners, the Learner Guide Program has the potential to be scaled further across sub-Saharan Africa.

Led by young women like Angela, it is catalysing action to ensure girls can remain in school, thrive at school and after completing school, and lead change in their communities.