#PressforProgress | International Women’s Day

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was Press for Progress, highlighting the need for a continued push to achieve gender parity across the globe.

At City Year UK we shone the spotlight onto our volunteer mentors, sharing some of their inspirational stories.

Chandni and Safiya

This year we have an all-girls team serving in Prendergast School; an all-girls’ comprehensive in south London. Two member of the team, Chandni and Saf, shared their stories of empowering young women in school.

Chandni joined City Year UK after teaching English and Spanish abroad to children in disadvantaged communities and then working in a youth charity in south London.

Chandni says: “City Year UK appealed to me as I liked having a direct impact on local communities. I also saw that I would have the opportunity to grow and develop new skills as well as making a difference to children’s lives.

“I try to instil values of self-love to boost the girls’ confidence and help them realise that their physical beauty is not the most important thing, even though society focuses on it. I also try to help them focus on their positive qualities to improve their self-esteem. I mentor Year 7s and many of them struggle with their friendships and social skills, so I encourage them to be kind to everyone, even when they fall out with others.

“I empower the girls mostly in their lunchtime clubs when they’re in a more relaxed environment to talk. They often share their friendship problems and I encourage them to treat each other with kindness and refrain from negative words they wouldn’t like to hear said about themselves. I think this helps them with their social skills as well as realising that there is more strength in unity. I hope they take these values on to future relationships as they get older.

“As much as being a VM is about empowering the students, being a young female leader feels greatly empowering too. It’s an important responsibility to have as a role model and has made me very aware of my own actions and how I present myself at all times. When I see students mirror my behaviour or take an interest in what I have done, I feel that I’m having a positive impact, even if just a small amount by listening and engaging with them.”

Safiya Sanni, from east London, is interested in crime and the psychology of criminals, and after studying law and criminology at university then working as a Prison Officer, she joined City Year UK to gain experience of working with young people, before moving on to working with youth offenders and assisting them with their rehabilitation and resettling into society.

Saf says: “From a very young age I’ve had this passion to help people from family and friends to clients and colleagues. I’ve also always been interested in crime, criminals and how crimes are solved. City Year taught us that a child should not be judged based on their behaviour. There is always a reason or back story behind any displayed behaviour. Being a volunteer mentor has humbled me and given me so much more patience and understanding when it comes to the behaviours of others.

“I try to encourage the girls to think beyond the apparent and to always carefully weigh out and sort their priorities. I empower the girls by constantly reminding them what their goals are and why they are working so hard (for self, by self).

“Being a young female leader, to me, means I have the chance to be a positive example and confidante to the young girls I am surrounded by. They don’t look to me as a teacher so they become less reserved and more open to cooperate and take on my advice. I use my own personal experiences and mistakes to encourage them and help them to recognize I’m coming from a place of understanding. Small things like not putting your hand up or asking a question when you are in need of help leads to major regrets in the future, I had to learn this the hard way from secondary school all the way to university and this is just one of many things I express to my students.”


Sarah and Aamina

Sarah Smith and Aamina Bashir serve at Prendergast Ladywell School – a mixed school nearby. They noticed that the gym was dominated by boys and that the P.E. staff were all male. Drawing on their own experiences in P.E., they knew how uncomfortable it could be for some girls, and wanted to create a safe space for girls to work out without the pressure and dominance of boys.

Aamina says: “We’ve noticed some really positive changes in the girls who take part. They’re more comfortable with sport and more up for trying something new in the club. They’ve asked for the club to be open on other days and we’re consulting with the P.E. department to set up a dance club.

I’ve learned so much from setting up the club. I’ve learned to turn words into action, adapt to different situations and problem solve. The girls would often show up late in the first few weeks because it took time to queue up for lunch beforehand, so we had to change our session plan in the short term to take this into account. We also plan to give the girls a pass to skip the lunch queue and enable them to make the club on time.”

Sarah says: “The club has inspired the P.E. department to look into setting up another session on Thursday lunchtimes for dance. I’m also hoping more will attend since I have now secured monthly donations of fruit and a cash donation from local supermarkets.

“I’ve learnt to be persistent and understand the value of building positive relationships with staff. My relationship with the kitchen and P.E. staff has enabled me to get the project up and running. I have learnt how to be flexible and take feedback on board. I’ve also learnt how to market a project; using a free online marketing tool provided by the This Girl Can campaign to advertise the club. I obtained permission to use their logo and made various leaflets and posters to put up in the girls’ loos and changing rooms.”

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