An empty school classroom in Ghana

A Voice For The Voiceless

To celebrate Volunteering Week, CONNECTED is sharing the inspirational stories of some of our alumni who volunteer. Today, we hear from Mabel Senaa Bonsuuri, who is helping change the lives of young girls in Ghana.

Mabel speaking in front of a crowd of girlsMabel, who studied Applied International Development at the University of Reading, is the founder of iHelpAfrica, a non-profit operating in the Volta region of Ghana.

iHelpAfrica’s mission is to work for the vulnerable in society, such as children, teenage mothers, substance users, and women, and to provide them with a platform that helps them become responsible and meet their potential.

Mabel founded the organisation in 2015 after several visits to rural communities while working on other community-based projects and witnessing the impact caused by the lack of social amenities. She said:

“I spoke with young girls who felt that the lack of social amenities contributed to their low performance in the national final year exam, particularly compared to their peers based in urban areas who did have access to these amenities.”

The iHelpAfrica logoAs a result of these conversations, Mabel explained that she was “compelled to engage more with them and their schools, in activities such as reading and writing. Our constant engagement then led to us being exposed to the challenges that girls, young people, and women were facing in their communities. This is what lead to the creation of iHelpAfrica.”

iHelpAfrica offers support such as education, skills training, and counselling to help improve the standard of living for the people they work with.

Period poverty

One of iHelpAfrica’s projects is combatting period poverty, an issue that Mabel is passionate about and determined to help tackle through the One Girl One Box project.

She said: “Period poverty leads to many girls missing school as they are unable to afford menstrual hygiene products.

“This, combined with the myths and misconceptions associated with periods, leads to girls staying at home, affecting their education and their opportunities to socialise.

“The main purpose of the One Girl One Box project is to help provide teenage girls with menstrual hygiene products in order to reduce absenteeism in schools. Ensuring that girls receive an education helps shape a brighter future for them and their families, as their education becomes a springboard through which the entire family can break out of poverty.

Mabel and a group of girls jumping in the air holding packs of sanitary pads“By tackling period shame, we hope to also raise girls’ self-esteem and enable them to participate fully in all aspects of society.”

The One Girl One Box project has already supported over 700 girls in over 15 rural communities in Ghana by providing them with sanitary products.

Making the world a better place

Looking back at her voluntary work, Mabel said that her favourite memories “will always be my encounters with young girls who confide in me and share the challenges they go through. Together we then find a solution, and this makes me feel fulfilled. They inspire me and I feel so proud when I see them achieve milestones.

“My standout moment was helping a young girl who was forced into early marriage and ended up being abused by her partner. A neighbour informed me and my colleagues and I found a safe haven for her. The girl was unemployed, having dropped out of school at the age of 14 when she got pregnant. We enrolled her in a skills development training programme, and next year she will be graduating from her fashion and design apprenticeship training.”

Mabel added that she feels that volunteering is important because:

“Volunteers are a voice for the voiceless. Volunteers play a vital role in development and contribute to making the world a better place not only for yourself but also for others. Always remember that every act of volunteerism makes the world much better.”

Find out more about iHelpAfrica and the One Girl One Box project. If you’d like to find out about volunteering opportunities through the University of Reading, please email our Alumni Volunteering Officer, Rachel Dean.