The Saturdays singer Vanessa White, 22, was recently invited to discover how Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative is helping to change lives.
Here Vanessa talks about her amazing experience:
I’ve just come back from an incredible trip to Tanzania where I saw how Comic Relief and the UK government are helping children and young girls at risk of forced marriage and early pregnancy. Although the legal age for marriage is 15, many families here consider child marriage a
Tragically, many child brides end up destitute, divorced or widowed, and struggle to feed and house their children.
Fortunately, the Children’s Dignity Forum is there to help. The project gives young girls the confidence to challenge being forced into marriage and pregnancy.
Girls are taught the importance of completing their schooling so they can get a good job and help benefit their families financially. Thanks to the financial support it receives from Comic Relief and UK aid, and the work of Africans in the UK, thousands of girls and young women are getting crucial assistance when they need it most.
One of the many stories that have moved and inspired me is Restuta’s. At 25 she’s only a few years older than me but our lives couldn’t be more different. While I was singing and dancing aged 14, Restuta was made to marry a 38-year-old. Although her husband was a policeman, he was not a man she could trust. He beat Restuta every day and on one occasion hurt her so badly, that he locked her in the house for five days so she couldn’t report him to the police.
Luckily, Restuta managed to flee with her eight month old baby to relatives when she was 15. She went back to school and now works for the Children’s Dignity Forum where she helps young women just like her. She is immensely thankful to Comic Relief for helping to transform her life and the lives of thousands of other young girls.
I’m privileged to meet the driving force behind the Children’s Dignity Forum; a warm and dignified woman called Dr Monica Mhojam. She now lives in Scotland with her family but was born and raised in a Tanzanian village, so she has a deep understanding of the communities she works tirelessly to support.
She recognises that the key to these girls breaking out of poverty is to complete their education, get a good job and decide when they want to have a family. It’s about helping them understand that they have choices. Monica says, “As a member of the African Diaspora, I want to show Tanzanian families that a girl child should not automatically be married off. I wasn’t married at a young age and yet I am still able to help my family because I had an education and got a good job as a lawyer.”
Leaving Tanzania I reflect on the bravery and strength of these young girls and women and pray that child brides will very soon be a thing of the past.