By Elizabeth Usovicz, Rotary International Director, chair of Rotary’s Empowering Girls Task Force
What does it mean to be empowered? For girls throughout the world, empowerment is the ability to make choices and create positive change in their own lives, as well as in their families and communities.
Empowered girls become empowered women. Reaching out to the girls of our world is the heart and purpose of Rotary’s Empowering Girls Initiative. Our stories of supporting girls are interwoven with their stories of empowerment, like the story of Atupele, a girl in Malawi.
I first became aware of Atupele when she was in primary school through my volunteer work with a local organization serving at-risk children in rural villages. Atupele was orphaned by AIDS as an infant. With Rotary club funding and assistance from Malawi Children’s Village, Atupele was raised by her grandmother.
Atupele was smart and determined. She wanted to go to secondary school, but had no money for tuition, uniforms or books. Rotary club funding and donor support provided Atupele with a scholarship. When she passed the entrance exams for nursing school, donor funding subsidized her studies.
In her first year at nursing school, Atupele suffered gender violence and became pregnant. Forced to return to her village, Atupele’s hopes of becoming a nurse faded.
Atupele gave birth to a daughter. Unfortunately, her baby did not survive. Throughout those dark times, Atupele never gave up her dream of becoming a nurse. With sheer determination, encouragement from Malawi Children’s Village and Rotary support, Atupele returned to school and completed her nursing studies. Today, in her own words, “I am working as a pediatric nursing officer. I do the following: delivering babies, prenatal and postnatal care and clinic, as well as adult nursing.”
Atupele’s journey has not been easy, and she continues to face challenges as a healthcare professional in a country where the ratio of care is one nurse for more than 2,000 patients. Despite significant barriers, Atupele has persevered. She has created positive change in her own life, and is a valued member of her family and community.
This is why our club, district and Rotary Acton Group projects to empower girls are so important, and why these stories matter. Now in its second year, Rotary’s Empowering Girls Initiative has launched thousands of projects and activities, from gender-based violence awareness and prevention in South Africa and South America, to vocational skills training and micro-lending programs in India, to menstrual health and hygiene education, products and gender-specific bathrooms in schools worldwide.
What can your club do? Support the girls of our world and partner with a Rotary Action Group or community organizations on an Empowering Girls project. Tell your stories on social media and in your community. List your activities in the Empowering Girls campaign on Rotary Showcase. Coming in August 2022, find more information and resources on the Rotary Presidential Initiatives page.
In the Chichewa language of Malawi, Atupele means “gift.” The most valuable gifts we can offer to girls is a voice in their own futures, the opportunity to choose for themselves and the ability to create positive change in their own lives, families and communities.