Leighton Buzzard teen helps to improve the lives of vulnerable women in Burkina Faso

Freya Strangways
Freya Strangways

A young Leighton Buzzard volunteer is helping Burkina Faso women make a fair living and take charge of their lives.

Freya Strangways, from The Wood, Leighton Buzzard, is 4,000 miles from home helping improve the lives of women and girls in Réo.

To coincide with International Women’s Day on Thursday, March 8, the 19-year-old is speaking out about her experience and encouraging other young Brits to get involved.

Freya, a former Aylesbury High School pupil, has been working as part of a team of young British and Burkinabé volunteers on a project to increase women’s economic empowerment, enabling them to run profitable and sustainable businesses.

47% of Burkina’s population live below the poverty line and the average life expectancy for women is just 60, more than 20 years below the UK. Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population, but are often more deeply affected by poverty than their male counterparts.

In rural Burkina Faso, many women have no means of earning an independent income, which makes them more vulnerable to poverty, and stops them reaching their full potential.

Freya and her team-mates have been working with rights-based development charity, International Service, and its partner organisation UGF CDN.

UGF CDN supports women to increase their literacy, their financial independence and their awareness of their rights.

Freya and her team have been working with UGF CDN members to produce and market their shea butter products to increase their income. They have also been delivering awareness raising sessions on HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation and sexual and reproductive health to the wider community.

Freya travelled to Burkina Faso through the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, funded by UK Aid.

She said: “We’ve found there is a lot of discrimination against women in our community, both socially and economically, as many women are not educated and do not have jobs as they are expected to stay at home and look after the family. Our project aims to overcome this by giving women in our community jobs, giving them both economic power, as well as more social recognition.”

“Our biggest achievement has been the awareness raising sessions as we’ve reached hundreds of people and educated them on many important issues. We’ve faced challenges – not least of all the language barrier! However the impact we’re making makes everything worth it.

ICS volunteers work alongside young local volunteers in some of the poorest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America on issues like sexual health, education and economic empowerment. You don’t need cash, skills or qualifications to take part – just the ambition to make a difference as you gain valuable skills and experience.

When Freya gets back to the UK on March 23, she will take on an ‘Action at Home’ project, to make sure that her new skills also benefit people in the UK.

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS at VSO, said: “ICS volunteers like Freya are doing amazing work around the world, every day. Our volunteers have helped promote children’s rights in Nigeria, campaign against child marriage in Bangladesh and bring safe drinking water to communities in Nepal.

“We’re incredibly proud that UK Aid is supporting young Brits bring about positive change in some of the world’s poorest communities, enabling them to develop their skills and confidence, and then also applying their time and effort in projects in their local communities in the UK, and we’d love more young people from Leighton Buzzard to take that first step and apply.”

For more information about ICS and how to apply, visit http://www.volunteerics.org