TiSR Girls’ Space Vocational Hub project aims to provide teenage girls, living in the community of Gako, with a brighter future. We do this through training the girls with a variety of vocational skills; supporting them with their personal, social and emotional development and providing them with a path to a more positive sustainable future.

We have just reached the end of our 18 month pilot project study, where we have been working closely with six teenage girls. Founder of TiSR, Kari Spence, first met these girls in Feb 2018, and now having moved to live in Rwanda has been hands on with this project, seeing first hand the impact it has had since January this year.

Below, Kari talks about the project from a personal perspective and explains the exciting next steps for TiSR Girls’ Space!

The girls participating in our pilot project were selected having been identified as extremely vulnerable and at risk within the community. All finished primary school aged 11 and sadly none of these girls had any further opportunities for education ; instead they were working in the fields collecting grass, working as maids, at high risk of prostitution and early marriage.

When I first met these girls in 2018, I was faced with a group of timid, quiet and truly sad-looking young girls. They sat in Felix and Ester’s living room (where the pilot project was taking place) not able to give each other eye contact, unable to communicate and looking completely lost. This is a day I will never forget. I remember the feelings that went through me that day – I felt a complete mix of emotions; both so passionate and excited to provide these girls with this opportunity, but also if I am fully honest, for the first time in my TiSR journey I was scared we were taking on something too big and I was worried about failing and letting these girls down.

Fast-forward 18 months. These girls have achieved more than I could ever have imagined. From making all school uniforms for Faith and Hope pupils, to designing beautiful items of clothing for the UK volunteers, to learning how to make reusable sanitary products, high quality bags, purses and so much more – these girls were given an opportunity and they each grabbed it with two hands and gave 100% into everything they were asked to do.

However, to me the biggest success of this project has been their personal, social and emotional development : I now walk into a group of chatty, laughing girls each time I visit Girls’ Space. I am greeted by smiles and hugs and the love seen within this project is inspiring. The girls refer to each other as sisters, and Ester is not only seen as a teacher but also a Mum figure. We have talked about gender equalities, relationships, rights, ambitions and dreams. They are now able to speak to strangers, they delivered a sports festival to over 100 primary girls, and can communicate their problems and views.

They are truly the definition of empowerment – they have turned into strong minded, ambitious driven girls, and I am more than confident that they are going to continue to develop and shine, have a positive impact and empower girls in their community and beyond.

‘Before I came here I had no confidence but now I am very confident- I think this is because I was able to share my life with different people- before I could not express my problems/feelings to anyone, but now I am able to express myself and my problems to people at Girls’ Space’ Ester, aged 17.

‘Before when I was alone at home, I got really angry, but since being part of this project I have learnt how to manage my emotions. I feel loved at Girls Space, before I would get angry if someone joked with me, but here I feel a sense of belonging’ Sandrine, aged 16.

Girls’ Space has taught me to speak about any fear/problems I have rather than keep them to myself. I am more open now than I ever have been and feel like part of a family’ Grace, aged 18.

The last 18 months has been an emotional rollercoaster. These first six girls have been the most inspiring young people I have been lucky enough to work with. They have made me laugh, they have made me cry and I couldn’t be prouder of each one of them. They are truly inspiring role models to future girls in this project and beyond, and have shown that if given an opportunity, with the right mindset and support anything is possible.

This pilot study has enabled us as a charity to evaluate and monitor regularly, to see what works and what needs to be changed going forward. With any new project you are always faced with obstacles and challenges, but we have been thankful for these as it has enabled us to reassess certain aspects of the project to enable us to deliver the most efficient program for the teenage girls living in Gako.

What’s next for Girls’ Space??

The pilot study has been taken place in Felix and Ester’s living room, which we decided was the most efficient place to begin the project so we were able to evaluate and monitor to ensure the project was a success, before looking to accommodate the project elsewhere.

** This week we have received some extremely exciting news **

Last year due to fundraising from our UK teachers’ volunteering trip we had the funds to secure a piece of land next to Faith and Hope primary, with the dream of building a Girls’ Space vocational hub building in the next few years.

Last week we received a generous donation, granted through Foundation Scotland, to enable this dream to now become a reality!

On Monday this week the work has begun! The land has now been cleared and flattened and the building of Girls’ Space will be starting in the next few weeks!

In September we will be welcoming our next cohort of teenage girls into the project and the Girls’ Space journey will continue.

I cant express my thanks to everyone who has been a part of this journey so far. To all our teachers, who worked so hard to fundraise last year, and to our donor through Foundation Scotland; thanks to you we are now going to be able to reach more teenage girls and help them towards a more positive future. You are all truly a part of something special, and helping TiSR to make a difference.