– By Emma Obidairo Danielsen, July 2018

Entering through the school gates, there were children lined up along the walls, hanging out on windows and running around in the courtyard, altogether contributing to a tremendous noise. When I exited the car, the noise, combined with the heat, was a bit overwhelming but we hurried into one of the nearby buildings to where the girls were pulling chairs from various classrooms and setting them up in preparation for the talk. When I walked towards them I was greeted by shy smiles and nervous eyes but they can rest assured that I was just as nervous.

I stood for a while, watching them chat and gist with each other before being pulled aside and set in front of a girl who confidently introduced herself as Eniola. She seemed very sweet and it didn’t take much questioning to find out what she had learned through the SKILLZ Girls program, informing me that she had been taught to love herself and that her body was hers alone.

Shortly after, I was given a chair at the back and sat quietly observing as 110 girls aged between 13-19 (as I was later informed) engaged in what is aptly termed “opening circle”. There aren’t really any words to describe what this entails but it is very energetic and every girl in the room is completely invested in this welcoming ceremony.

Then, the speaker came forward and introduced herself, also thanking them for such a welcome. She explained that they were about to talk about love, sex and relationships, a topic that I, myself, am very familiar with through my own school. However, despite having the same topic, this scenario could not be any more different from my school, in which all 150 of my classmates would sit and doze off to someone who was preaching the same thing we’d been hearing since the age of 12. This was so much better. There was always someone talking, whether that was to ask a question or to engage in a role-play and they made an anonymous question system where you could put your question into a box and they would be answered at the end of the session. That box did not stop moving around the room. There was always a curious little girl who had something to ask.

The speaker spoke of her own experience, dealing with sexual abuse and how it drove her to the brink of suicide before being saved by her friend on the roof of her school, then went into detail as to how she protected herself from her abuser and inspired the group when she mentioned how she now had a PhD and four kids with her wonderful partner. As opposed to clapping, the girls snapped to show the admiration they had for her. The speaker also explained that the boy you fall for and get heartbroken over will not matter at all when you’re older and that you don’t have to have sex with them to show that you love them. At the end, they had a closing circle which was just as full of energy and enthusiastic as the opening circle. The speaker offered a one-on-one counselling session at the end for the girls and refreshments were served to the rest of them, forming nearly orderly lines to get sodas and biscuits.

I was led over to the line of girls who were there for the one-on-one session and was surprised when they started to flock towards me, all curious as to where I was from and if I followed the football.  I answered their questions and heard it echo to the back of the growing crowd, shaking one hand only to have two more waiting for me. My one mistake was when I gave my biscuits to one of the girls who asked, this was when it got a bit intense as the crowd started to yell and convulsed around me trying to get the soda I had in my other hand. I was pulled out and they were told to head off to their classes that were preparing them for their exams the following day. However, one girl remained and this was Eniola, whom I had met earlier. She insisted on getting a picture and I agreed, holding her hand and letting her lead me outside to the front of one of the school buildings. Our picture having been taken, I went and posed with the rest of the SKILLZ Girls Coaches who had worked as mentors and Peer educators to these girls, thoroughly impressed that such a small group of women had reached out to such a large number of girls. I left feeling a little more confident and waving at some of the girls on the way out.

PS: Emma Obidairo Danielsen, a UK student who is currently on a summer vacation in Lagos, recently visited one of our project sites and sent in this article. The BMZ SKILLZ Girl project is sponsored by the German government’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ; German: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung), through StreetFootballWorld.

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