Meet 3 Women who are Defying Normal in their Communities

Normal is girls denied opportunity. Normal is girls denied a future. We know that’s true because:

  • Over 130 million girls are currently out of school.
  • Nearly 12 million girls are married before they turn 18.
  • For girls 15-19, complications during childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death.

If this is the ‘normal’ we’ve come to accept for girls, what future and opportunities do we expect their adult selves to have? How will they reach their full potential?

Some ways in which Plan International Canada works to Defy Normal for girls is by helping to get them back in school, working with communities to end child marriage and improving access to sexual and reproductive health services and education. But one way we help women secure brighter futures is through vocational training.

Meet 3 women from different parts of the world but who have their drive to succeed in common.

Rakayatou, 34 – Cameroon

Rakayatou is a refugee from Nigeria who fled to Cameroon with her nine children in November 2015 because of civil unrest.

“They last saw their father when our village was attacked. It was not easy for me, a single mother with nine children, to sit and watch my children cry with hunger. I decided it was time to act.”

Back in Nigeria, Rakayatou was a farmer but after arriving in Cameroon, that was no longer possible as she had no land, tools or seeds.

Plan International, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is providing vocational training in Cameroon to help refugees like Rakayatou become self-sufficient again. Sixty percent of those enrolled in the training are women.

Rakayatou decided to apply for an apprenticeship in carpentry. “I chose carpentry because I wanted to give wood another value. Although I knew that it would help me make money to take care of my children, I was afraid that I might not be accepted at the centre.”

But she was!

“I am amazed at the way this mother of nine children is determined to learn. She is very calm, attentive and hardworking. I am moved by her interest in a male dominated profession; a profession almost regarded in her community as a taboo for women. She learns faster than some of her male colleagues and I am sure she will greatly excel.” – Rakayatou’s Apprentice Tutor

With her new skills in tow, Rakayatou is defying the odds and deciding her own future!

“The difference between other women and me is that they generally destroy wood, by turning it into ash while cooking for their children, but I transform wood into valuable objects which I sell to make money to take care of my children and provide for their educational needs.”

We are proud to report that more than 100 people have graduated from these training courses and helped women like Rakayatou rebuild their lives.

Leam, 20 – Cambodia

Leam dropped out of school when she was in Grade 7, to help her family with their farm. “I wanted go to school and felt sorry about losing my friends, but my mother needed me,” she explains.

While still a teenager, she got married and had to move in with her in-laws. Life was difficult as she didn’t get along with her in-laws, the couple relied on them for financial support and when their daughter was a newborn, Leam’s husband began to deny that he was the father.

Leam ended up getting a divorce and being a single mother living in her mother’s home.

Without an education or skills, Leam’s prospects were not great. So when she heard about Plan International’s local training course, she immediately enrolled.

For six months, Leam took part in classes with 50-60 other girls and decided to train as a tailor.

Throughout the training period, her mother looked after her daughter Minea, while Leam spent the days practicing repairing and sewing garments of all kinds. It was both an educational and social experience.

Leam is now running her own business in the covered space under their home and is saving money to open up a store one day. She repairs clothes and alters garments, and also makes brand new clothes. Most of her customers are people from her village.

“I’m fine now. I am earning a bit of money to support myself. And with a one-year-old daughter, it’s an advantage to be able to work from home. I also like to design clothes for others,” she smiles.

Leam’s courage to leave an unhappy marriage and take vocational training has helped her take a big step forward in her life. She has lots of wishes for her daughter’s future. “I hope Minea gets an education. Perhaps she could become a nurse,” she says with a smile.

Alice, 22 – Rwanda

“I dropped out of school in 2008. I was hoping to go back to school after giving birth but I never had that chance,” says Alice.

Lack of money and skills, coupled with the responsibility of raising a child on her own at 16; Alice found life to be a daily struggle.

But in 2012, she was accepted into a Plan International-run vocational training course. She decided to study plumbing – a profession dominated by men.

“We used to think that girls are not capable, but we later found that girls are able too. Alice has a remarkable capacity and passion in this profession. She never shows any sign of laziness or discomfort in doing what she does,” says Fulgence, Alice’s workmate and former classmate.

Learning a trade has enabled Alice to be financially independent and secure a better future for herself and her daughter. “I take care of my daughter and myself without begging from anyone. I also support my mother. I now have a bank account and I have bought four pigs that generate additional income,” Alice explains.

Alice was one of 400 young people in Rwanda who graduated from this program with various vocational skills including mechanics, plumbing, tailoring, construction and catering. They now have the skills they need to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Join us to #DefyNormal

Rakayatou, Alice and Leam were able to access an education and opportunities they needed to succeed and reach their full potential, with a little help from Plan International. But while we were able to reach them and help them find new hope, the reality is millions more women around the world share similar stories.

We are committed to helping women alter the course of their lives in a positive way through vocational training and other programs. But we are also committed to improving access to education for girls, so that at a young age, girls can decide their own futures!

Join us in rejecting the loss of all human potential and help us to Defy Normal. Together, we can unleash the untapped power of everyone who’s being denied their rights.