Promoting a positive identity among Rwandan girls.
The students at Marie Adelaide school in Gihara, Rwanda, line up in the schoolyard. They are a sea of regulation yellow and blue uniforms — a sea that bursts into waves of smiles, cheers and whistles when four young women arrive and stand onstage in front of them.
The women are not part of a visiting pop band. Rather, Cecile, Beni, Christine and Gloriose are writers and radio presenters from Ni Nyampinga, a quarterly magazine and weekly radio show created by young women in the capital, Kigali.
“We are like superstars!” exclaims 24-year-old Gloriose Isugi.
The magazine and radio show are created by different teams that share a mission of promoting a positive identity among Rwandan girls. The name Ni Nyampinga means, “the girl who is beautiful inside and out and who makes good decisions.”
The live half-hour radio show is broadcast on eight stations across the country and covers health, education and financial literacy, all delivered in a lively, peer-to-peer style. Presenters Cecile and Beni joke with listeners, playing music from some of the country’s biggest stars, such as singer Knowless and rapper King James, alongside pre-recorded interviews with inspirational girls.
It’s Ni Nyampinga’s belief that by providing positive role models, starting conversations and providing information, they can help ensure that girls graduate from junior secondary school and — more ambitiously — help prevent them from ending up in a low-income poverty trap.
The quarterly magazine is a large-format publication, resplendent in reds, yellows and vibrant graphic prints, and designed to be read over two laps. Recent stories include a feature about girls who have successfully saved money, a piece detailing strategies for acing exams, a profile of a 109-year-old mentor, and informative articles on reproductive health.
Ni Nyampinga is now the biggest publication in the country, printing 90,000 copies. It has even had direct, concrete impact: One girl in the southern province contacted the magazine to say she’d installed electricity in her parents’ house after reading about another girl who’d done the same.
The project is run by Girl Hub, an organization funded by Nike Foundation and the U.K.’s Department for International Development with a mission to “stop poverty before it starts.”
When the magazine launched in 2011, no distribution network existed. So the Girl Hub staff invented one, building a network of female ambassadors in each of Rwanda’s 30 districts. Each of the ambassadors holds a distribution assembly when a new issue is published, ensuring that the magazine goes to girls directly and also helping to foster a sense of community.
As a result of the magazine and radio show’s influence, Rwandan girls are also creating clubs and peer support systems in their schools, explains Afrika Mukaneto, Girl Hub Rwanda’s editorial product manager. “We are helping girls create a social network.”
Current contributors are ages 15 to 24 and come from a broad demographic: Some grew up with two parents, and others are orphans from the genocide; some attend school in rural areas, and others live in Kigali. They’re an impressive bunch, says Mukaneto, with discernible pride.
One such contributor is Ritha Bumwe. After writing for the magazine for about a year, she now works as a news anchor on commercial television station TV10.
“Before joining I was studying but jobless,” Ritha says. “Ni Nympinga has made my career a reality. It’s changed a lot for [other contributors] too. They were jobless, but now they earn money that helps them be self-reliant. Most of them pay their own school fees. And most importantly, some were very shy, but now they can speak in public because they’re used to interviewing different people.”
Ritha remembers fondly the first time she saw her own article in Ni Nyampinga. “I kept the copy safe in my suitcase, and I’ll never lose it,” she says. “It showed me I have the capacity to do something.”
With the mission of empowering girls everywhere, Girl Hub is now expanding worldwide. Current projects span the U.K., Nigeria and Ethiopia, including a radio drama and talk show run by girls in Addis Ababa. It seems the world is also taking notice: In 2013, two Ni Nyampinga journalists attended the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpar and were described by former U.S. First Lady Barbara Bush as “incredible leaders.”
Mukaneto believes that Ni Nyampinga has relevance beyond Rwanda’s borders, “giving girls and young people a sense that they’re able to control their lives and plan for their future.”
Back in the schoolyard, the students disperse in a hum of excited chatter. Their bespectacled head teacher strolls back to her office, hands behind her back. “This magazine is so popular I have to ration it,” she says. “I’m reserving them for the students who are progressing well.”
It seems Ni Nyampinga’s aim to encourage good decision-making, then, is working for the older generation too.