Protecting the Vulnerable
In every corner of the world, women and girls are abused, neglected, and forgotten. They are denied basic human rights and often face physical, mental, and emotional trauma from violence. ADRA recognizes the unique vulnerability of women and girls and seeks to address their needs through targeted projects.
Our programs are community-based and involve the whole family so that our efforts are effective in sustainably increasing knowledge and changing behavior. ADRA considers gender equity and the empowerment of women as a cross-cutting intervention for all of our programs.Donate Today
Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo
Valerie* is 16, the mother of a 4-month-old baby, and a victim of rape. When she was just 14 years old, soldiers patrolling the road into town took her by force and sexually assaulted her. Afraid of the stigma attached to rape, she kept it a secret.
In Valerie’s hometown of Bweremana in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gender-based violence is often regarded as a nuisance instead of a serious and life-altering crime. When Valerie finally returned home, she was too ashamed to tell anyone what had happened, but it soon became obvious that she was pregnant.
People in her town began to mock her, jeering, “Where is the father?” The teasing became so bad that she refused to leave the house.
It is because of girls like Valerie that ADRA operates Ongea, a project named for the literal meaning of the Swahili word ongea: “speak up.” Ongea encourages women to speak up against rape and sexual assault and against the people who perpetrate and condone it. In addition to supporting victims of gender-based violence, Ongea strives to combat the prevailing cultural attitude that enables it.
By creating listening committees comprised of community members, and counseling groups of influential local leaders, ADRA has developed a system to value women and devalue crimes against them. Ongea also spreads awareness through radio broadcasts and cultural activities.
This project has galvanized the women of Bweremana, many of whom feel empowered for the first time in their lives. “I want to combat gender-based violence,” said local listening group member Vomili Ngengeisi. “I want to help girls like Valerie.”
Though still suffering from the trauma of her experience, Valerie has hope that Ongea will continue to speak up against gender-based violence in her community. Of her own future, she is modest: “I dream about finding a husband who will love me.”
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Fifteen-year-old Confridah started high school with excitement. She excelled in her studies and had plans to go to a university in the future. Her father had different plans.
He had secretly found a husband for his daughter, and keeping with the custom in many parts of Kenya, he was going to have her circumcised.
Female circumcision, more accurately known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is a pervasive cultural practice that scars, damages, and sometimes even kills the women and girls who undergo the process. Age is rarely a factor, with reports of girls as young as 4 and 5 years old being circumcised.
When Confridah learned of her father’s intentions, she ran away from home. She wanted to stay in school and receive an education, not become a tragic statistic. Church leaders sheltered her until she was able to connect with ADRA, an agency she was assured could help her.
ADRA works hard to eradicate FGM in Kenya by implementing programs like the Girls’ Empowerment project. These programs educate girls about their body and their rights, as well as rescue girls whose body and rights are being violated.
Also provided are life skills workshops that teach vulnerable girls and their families the value of a healthy woman and provide assistance in vocational training and school enrollment.
Thanks to the Girls’ Empowerment project in Kenya, 670 girls have been saved from FGM.
Confridah is one of those girls. ADRA helped reenroll her in school, and she is now an academic and female rights mentor with the ADRA school program, Kenya’s Girls’ Club. The 20 girls in this club meet regularly to organize community outreach so they can encourage and empower other young girls.
ADRA believes in the power of women like Confridah, whose passion ignites people around her to create change.
From within her office, 22-year-old Lin sees all the girls who come through the front door of the shelter. Some are just children, cowering in the doorway. Many are on their own, without family to protect them. All are vulnerable to the devastating sex trade that is rampant in Thailand.
The office in which Lin works is housed within the Keep Girls Safe compound, an ADRA program designed to identify, support, and educate young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation. At the age of 13, Lin was one of those girls.
As a member of the Akha hill tribe in Thailand’s rural Chiang Rai district, Lin was oblivious to the crime and violence of the big cities. She was very poor, spoke no Tai, and had only a kindergarten education, but her community was peaceful and she was happy.
Then one day, just before her 14th birthday, an old friend returned to the village with new clothes and beautiful makeup. She had been working in the city for several months at a large karaoke bar and said she had lots of money to buy nice things.
Lin wanted to buy nice things also, but more than anything, she wanted to help provide for her family. They were all living on less than $2 per day, and she was desperate to give them financial security. She agreed to join her friend in the city, working in the position her friend only vaguely described as “the service industry.”
When she spoke to her family about moving to the city, her father rejected the idea, and instead enrolled her in an educational center for rural girls such as herself. Lin was dismayed that instead of alleviating her family’s financial stress, she was contributing to it. She felt like a burden to her family.
As the weeks passed, however, she began to respond to the education. The center provided language courses and vocational training. Lin especially enjoyed accounting, and began to advance herself through class work and independent study.
When Lin finished the program, she immediately found a job working as an accountant for ADRA. Not only is she able to provide money to her family, but also she has the opportunity to work with girls who are fleeing the same fate her father helped her avoid.
“This ADRA center is so important for these girls,” said Lin. “Thanks to ADRA, they now have an education and a future.”
Lin has a future now too. With ADRA’s assistance, she will soon finish her degree in accounting, which will help her give back even more to her family and to ADRA.
“Working with ADRA is special, because I don’t just earn money for my family—I can help girls like me,” Lin said. “And that is very important to me.”