March 5, 2020
Josh Kinney

In Gao, a region wrought by conflict in Northern Mali, 19-year-old Salma Agbdou is a warrior of resilience, distinguished by her courage, availability, and willingness to use her life experiences to help other women. A member of her local Youth Club, a component of the USAID-funded Education Recovery Support Activity (ERSA) project, Salma has established herself as a leader in her community. She is part of the decision-making bodies that are changing and shaping her village, working for the betterment of women and providing a voice to the voiceless.

A few years prior to ERSA, Salma’s life was quite different. She was withdrawn from school by her parents, watching as her ex-schoolmates continued their studies while she was busied with housework and engaged in activities preparing her solely for marriage. But Salma savored every moment she could talking with friends about school, trying to learn from them what they themselves were learning. By sixth grade, Salma was given in marriage to a cousin, where she experienced gender-based violence. Despite her painful circumstances, she persevered, nurturing her thirst for learning and serving her community.

Then the ERSA program arrived in Salma’s village, offering a literacy and workforce development program, with information, training, and sessions on themes such as gender-based violence, social cohesion, and living together. Salma joined ERSA, and through the program, she overcame her circumstances and is now affecting the lives of countless women living in similar conditions. 

As a survivor of gender-based violence, Salma is working to prevent young girls in her community from having to experience the ordeal she went through. With support from the ERSA program, Salma educates community members about gender-based violence and its consequences. And her large audience of women appreciates her fight as she begins to pass down what she has learned to equip young women leaders and girls in her village.

What’s especially moving to me about Salma’s story is her resilience. In spite of substantial difficulties, she sought out the ERSA program, which produced life-changing results that continue to today. International Women’s Day (March 8) honors and celebrates women like Salma—women who are stepping up and into leadership for the good of other women and entire communities. Who would you like to honor and celebrate on International Women’s Day?

 Josh Kinney is a writer/editor and communications associate for EDC. He provides communications support to EDC’s International Development Division.
Suicide, Violence, and Injury Prevention
Out-of-School Learning
Youth and Workforce Development

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