In Uganda, a special group of girls gather to pray, greeting each other with a friendly smile before bowing their heads to thank the Lord for what He has done for them. This “Big Sister Circle” prays for God to continue working in their lives, and they also encourage younger girls to look to God for hope in the future. These ‘big sisters’ have been changed through the work of the Project Princess Initiative, a Cross International ministry partner committed to supporting, educating, and empowering girls to become responsible leaders of the next generation in Uganda.
Girls in Uganda are desperately in need of the kind of support the Project Princess Initiative provides. According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 4 in 5 girls in Uganda do not attend high school, around half of girls between ages 15-24 are illiterate, and more than 700,000 girls between the ages of 6-12 have never attended school. Poverty is a leading contributor to this problem, as the expense of school uniforms and supplies are often prioritized for boys. Early marriage prevents many girls from continuing in school, with around 35% of girls dropping out of school due to marriage and 23% due to pregnancy. For those who try to stay, inadequate infrastructure for girls’ hygiene at school results in prolonged gaps in their education, as girls stay home during their monthly cycles.
The Project Princess Initiative is determined to change this reality, one girl at a time. The initiative was started in 2009 by Fiona Miremba Kiggundu, a Christian Ugandan woman concerned about the abused girls who sought help at her preschool. From the beginning, the focus has been keeping vulnerable girls in school, providing an education which will empower them to thrive economically and build stable families, which, in turn, builds stable communities.
To do this, the Project Princess Initiative uses multiple approaches. Through school partnerships, “Talk Sessions” are offered after hours so girls can learn more about topics such as career choices, self-esteem, decision making, hygiene management, and body changes. Sessions are designed to challenge, inspire, and equip vulnerable young women to stay in school. Girls also receive counseling, tutoring, and health services at the Project Princess Initiative’s own center, a safe place to make friends in group sessions that include Bible study and psychological support. For girls outside of school—either raising siblings or as a result of teen pregnancy—the program offers vocational training and start-up equipment to help girls generate ongoing income and make a decent living in trades like bead making, tailoring, hair dressing, cooking, candle- or soap-making. This year, Cross International is partnering with the Project Princess Initiative to reach as many as 1,000 at-risk girls with scholarships, supplies, life and work skills to provide them with hope for the future.
In all this, the most important element is the spiritual emphasis, where girls are taught from scripture about the love of God and the hope He brings. As they read the Bible and attend church regularly, girls learn to place their trust in God. The strength of this hope and trust is deeply empowering for the girls of Uganda, enabling them to take initiative in their growth and development. This is how the “Big Sister Circle” prayer group was formed, as older girls sought to connect in prayer and encourage younger girls to continue in the program. It’s the kind of momentum the Project Princess Initiative and Cross International plan to build upon in the years to come.