“I salute you for your courage, I salute you for your vision and your commitment to try to help to change things, and we want to work with you,” he added.
As part of his official state visit to Nigeria, Mr Kerry reiterated the US State Department’s commitment to empowering adolescent girls though a $100million investment fund. During the time he spent with the TEGAs, Mr Kerry got under the skin of what it’s like to be a girl in Nigeria.
The TEGAs are ideally placed to do just this. TEGA researchers are trained to gather unique, authentic insights into the challenges facing Nigerian girls. They collect real-time data on mobile phones – and because they’re girls just like the girls they’re interviewing, TEGAs can unearth insights that traditional research methods can miss because girls feel more comfortable opening up to them.
The TEGA training programme also helps to empower the TEGA researchers by building their skillset and giving them the confidence to become better researchers.
“TEGA has given me a pathway,” one of the girls said at the meeting.” It has helped me and I know I can achieve my dreams. I want to be a writer and now I want to know more. I was surprised to see that girls can do more.”
Mr Kerry said: “This is a privilege for me. I am a father of two daughters, and they’ve both been very lucky to have great opportunities in their lives.
“I know you face enormous challenges, as Cathy said, there are millions of young women not in school who don’t even have the opportunity to go to school. There are too many young women who are pushed into a forced marriage at a young age. And so we’re working very hard on a programme that is about women’s choice, about women being able to make choices.”
The US ambassador at large for global women's issues, Cathy Russell, was also in attendance. “Nigeria is still a tough place to be a girl,” she said. “Forty per cent get married before they’re 18. FGM is decreasing but still prevalent. One-third of school-aged children are not in school. Women and girls are critical to the success of the country.”
The meeting made a real impression on the TEGA girls, too. “It made me feel more comfortable that I should speak up,” said one.* “I was scared but [Mr Kerry] kept asking questions about TEGA. If by being a TEGA I can meet John Kerry, then I want to meet Obama next.”
The girls hope their optimism can spread to all girls in Nigeria and are hopeful for the future.
“Nigeria is beautiful and full of opportunities,” said one TEGA.* “Many girls will meet their amazing potential. Girls in Nigeria can come out of their hiding places and embrace what advancement is available to them.”
* Names of the girls quoted in this article have been kept anonymous in order to protect their identity and keep them safe and secure.
Find out more about TEGA here.