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Empowering young girls to change communities

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Young girls enrolled on the Womanhood Academy programme

IT’S OFTEN been said that when we support and empower young girls and women, we make things better for everyone.

When you educate, nurture and empower young women they not only lead businesses but they lead in their communities, advocate for their children and shine a spotlight on issues that are important to the black community’s future such as health care, education and tackling poverty.

A number of organisations in the UK are working in local communities to empower young black girls. And one of the newest is the Womanhood Academy.


WOMANHOOD ACADEMY'S SLOGAN: There will be sessions for pre-teens as well as teenagers

INSPIRE

Launched earlier this year at Parkview Academy in Tottenham, it is a transformational programme designed to empower and inspire young girls from the age of eight right through to 18.

The programme offers a range of services and mentoring initiatives, giving them guidance in the long road from adolescence to womanhood.

During its March launch popular comedienne, actress and writer Judi Love, whose motto is ‘Laughter is Healing’, had the audience fully engaged in the theme of the day and the ethos of Womanhood Academy.

There were tears of joy and sadness as she opened the event by sharing personal stories of caring for her mother, being a mother and juggling a career.

The room was filled with power and energy for others to exude; this set the scene for strength and perseverance for those women who followed to embrace and share their own experiences.

The large foyer was filled with market vendors showcasing hand-crafted clothes, jewellery, books and cards while the event opened with female drummers, poets and an energising performance by OneNess Sankara.

The audience constantly shared and reaffirmed the ‘need’ for such an event.

Based in north London, The Womanhood Academy is now recruiting young women and will take them on an urban rites of passage program starting in September.

Two pathways have been designed for children aged eight to 12 and then 13-18.

The programme is broken into four cycles: The Seed, The Root, The Stem, The Petal and graduates with Bloom. Based on the elements of a flower, each of these cycles will focus on different aspects of a young woman’s development.

The Womanhood Academy HA will use creative and imaginative workshops that celebrate each young lady’s individualism and concentrate on unique personal qualities.

This can range from health to personal development; beauty to relationships and entrepreneurship.

They aim to challenge, stretch and empower its young participants and ultimately see them blossom.

The Womanhood Academy was founded by seven inspirational women; Camille Curtis y Van Dyke, Peaches Cadegon, Michelle Thorney, Tieyone Hall, Rouchelle Mclean, Sister Ama and Sister Angela, who have a combined 90 years’ experience working with young people, families and grassroots projects as well as expertise in other areas such as midwifery and life coaching.

“We’ve always seen a need for our young girls’ voices to be empowered,” says Thorney.

“Women have invisible scars and need to be in an environment where they can share and heal. We have been taught to say that everything is OK, when it isn’t. We’ve been taught to keep our business to ourselves, when we really need to release.

“When we talk and share, you can come to realise that you’re not by yourself. You’re not the only one to experience this.”

This is a key area of work for both Hall and Sister Ama who bring their skills in mentoring, life coaching and personal development to the programme helping young women who are part of it to gain a deeper understanding of individual identity.

The Womanhood Academy will work with partner organisation The Manhood Academy, which has successfully worked with young black boys.

Motivational speaker and presenter Peaches reinforced the need for men and women to work together, becoming the ideal ying and yang.

“There are separate programmes for the boys and girls but you have to bring them together at some points to truly understand how to communicate, respect and love each other,” she says. “We are action-focused to bring about positive change.’

One aim of the Academy is to develop the business acumen of the young women it works with and allow their individual talents and skills to naturally blossom.

Curtis y Van Dyke, deputy head at Wac Arts College, looks forward to being a part of this process.

“I am excited about the possible partnership projects that we are already creating,” she says. “We want to create a platform, which allows these young women to shine. We want them to meet other dynamic women and know that they too, can overcome any obstacle and still be a force to be reckoned with.”


CULTURE: Ushering the launch of Womanhood Academy with the blessings of the ancestral drum

Another aim of the programme is to take the young women they work with to The Gambia to experience a traditional rites of passage ceremony in Africa. Taking the young people out of their ‘comfort zones’ and taking them to a new and beautiful environment that will challenge their fears and help them reassess their mindset.

In this area Sister Angela complements the team well. As co-founder of AG Associates, she has 10 years’ worth of links and organising tours in The Gambia.

“We have been successfully organising culturally aware group trips and excursions to Africa for over a decade. My value of community involvement has allowed me to be giving of myself, always being aware of the needs of our community,” she says.

The project is currently self-funded. Thorney says: “We don’t want to be dependent on charity funding because it can be so unpredictable and not guaranteed – we want to be self-reliant, robust and understand different business models.” There will be fees applied to the services but these are presently subsidised. Partnerships with schools and other community groups are an important element to sustainability, longevity and expansion of the project as well as being able to enrich the offer and opportunities.

One of the current issues that the team behind the Womanhood Academy recognise is that young people are being raised in an environment with many distractions and hurdles to overcome – social media and technology being a huge factor.

One of the many tools that the programs aim to instil is self-discipline, focus and passion.

PURPOSE

“Social media has the ability to corrupt and deter our young people from their purpose,” says Curtis y Van Dyke.

“I see it in our schools and it’s an everyday battle.”

The Manhood Academy representation at the launch was almost regal.

The brothers embodied the saying, ‘I am my sister’s keeper.’

“It’s all come full circle since the launch of Manhood Academy,” says Manhood Academy founder, Aundrieux Khonsu Sankofa El.

“Creating Manhood Academy was a way to highlight the fact that the road from boyhood to manhood is never easy. There are lessons that not everyone has at hand.

“Manhood Academy is the place to learn them. It’s also a place to give the young boys and men the platform they need to make their voices heard.”

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