The innovative PowerGirls programme aims to transform vulnerable South African girls to become outspoken and powerful young women, capable of becoming change agents within their communities. 

The reality of the country’s socio-economic landscape, however, means many young girls are denied the opportunity of ever reaching their full potential. PowerGirls intends to change this by providing young and adolescent girls with the tools to become resilient, positive and an inspirational role model for those coming after them. 


Today, on International Day of the Girl, the achievements of girls will be celebrated worldwide. 

In South Africa, however, many girls never get the opportunity to achieve. One third of female children in the country grow up in disadvantaged homes. The majority have little hope of ever reaching their full potential and are destined to be trapped in a continuous cycle of poverty. This makes them particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, teenage pregnancies and the threat of HIV/Aids, particularly given South Africa’s traditionally patriarchal society. 

One initiative aiming to break this cycle is the PowerGirls programme with its mission to walk every underprivileged South African girl through its innovative seven-year programme in order to build her resilience so she can develop to her full potential. Not only does the programme aim to empower the girls themselves, but also strengthen the community as a whole by growing the girls into positive role models. 

The PowerGirls programme

“Our aim with the PowerGirls programme is to see vulnerable girls become achievers in their communities: attending and completing school, gaining skills in order to become contributing and healthy members of society and valuable members of the future work force, and fewer girls succumbing to teenage pregnancies,” says Magali Malherbe, managing director of MAMAS Alliance. 

“Through our work with vulnerable children we know the positive difference a caring mentor can make in the life of a vulnerable girl. The PowerGirls programme has the potential to break the cycle of poverty for so many vulnerable girls and allow them an opportunity to achieve great things.”

Fun plays an essential role in the programme which takes place on a weekly basis. In total 40 PowerGirl sessions consisting of value-centred activities emphasising experiential learning are planned for each year including learning activities, talks, games, role plays and outings. The activities combine to form a layered programme that offers solutions to multiple issues including fun in safety, education, life skills and self-care, self-awareness, leadership, giving back, health, awareness of environmental issues, and group identity. Sessions are conducted by trained facilitators, assisted by a co-ordinator. 

Each group consists of two age groups of between 16 to 24 girls: a nine to 12 year old group, and a 13 to 16 year old group. 

Girls are rewarded for their progress throughout the programme with badges. On completion of the programme the girls graduate as PowerGirls. 

During the six month pilot project to test the programme, run in both semi-urban and rural areas, the girls attending exhibited positive changes. In addition to learning to be kinder and more supportive to each other, they were beginning to understand their strengths and weaknesses and displaying more positive behaviour.  Girls not on the programme were requesting to join and even teachers from local schools have asked if some of the activities could be shared with them. 

What is MAMAS Alliance?

The PowerGirls programme has been developed under the auspices of the MAMAS Alliance, a network of 33 independent and autonomous grassroots organisations which currently operate from 75 sites across South Africa. The alliance works in remote, rural, semi-urban and urban areas across the country, providing structural and practical daily care to the most vulnerable and needy of children. 

To date more than 100 companies including Ford, Pick n Pay and Investec have provided support to the MAMAS Alliance which helps more than 60 000 vulnerable children in South Africa on a daily basis via 2000  dedicated and committed MAMAS. 

As a result of the success of the PowerGirls pilot project, MAMAS Alliance invited all 33 partner NGOs to join the programme. 

International funding

The PowerGirls programme is being funded for the first three years by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. For the past 20 years, they have been supporting Kinderfonds MAMAS, a Netherlands-based NGO which raises funds for childcare organisations in South Africa. A robust monitoring, reporting and evaluation process has been developed in order to measure success and impact. Specific outcomes and indicators have been designed for each workshop session.

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