Young girls in Ungheni team up as champions of nonviolence at school
Ionela, Bianca, and Victoria advocate for girls' rights and combat gender stereotypes, and we share their stories as part of International Women’s Day.
Located about 100 kilometers from the capital Chisinau, the festivity hall of the "Gheorghe Asachi" Theoretical High School in Ungheni was brightened up by the smiling faces of 50 students in the 5th grade. They all have their eyes and ears on two older girls named Ionela and Bianca, who are the Young Ambassadors of the Child Helpline, and, in fact, the champions of nonviolence at this school.
The two girls were conducting a new information session on violence against children and combating gender stereotypes, which other teenagers from secondary school classes had attended for the past six months.
"I have experienced verbal abuse in primary school. I am familiar with the feelings of every child being bullied, and the consequences can be quite serious. I know young people can be scarred for life, and the flashbacks follow them into adulthood. That's why I want to contribute to the prevention of this phenomenon. Starting with small steps in school, we can change society from the basis,” said 16-year-old Ionela Chirică.
Ionela is the Head of the Bullying and Violence Prevention Department at the school where she studies, and she recently organized the Violence Prevention Day in school.
Ionela mentioned that the role of Child Helpline Ambassador within the EVA project offered her new opportunities and motivated her to become more responsible towards her colleagues and friends.
"The implementation of the EVA project in Ungheni has triggered several activities for young people - intellectual games, debates, theater performances - practical and fun activities through which young people learn how to prevent cases of violence, how to report them, and how to give the necessary support to victims of violence," said Ionela.
Bianca, another Child Helpline Ambassador, echoes these feelings.
"I sympathize with many children because even at their age, I was scared when an adult found out I had been a victim of violence. Often, they say, 'you asked for it, you found it,' and even more, you feel helpless. But things are changing, and we, as ambassadors, contribute to change. After each information session, I realize that we have helped a little bit more to uproot gender stereotypes and inspire confidence among young people to report cases of violence or discriminatory behaviour," said 16-year-old Bianca Cigoreanu.
Bianca dreams of becoming a Member of Parliament. By taking up a position at this level, she aims to contribute to positive change in the country, ensure respect for children's rights, propose laws to prevent violence, and protect victims of violence, especially against women and girls.
At the other end of town, a 10th grader named Victoria is leading the campaign on nonviolence at the Mihai Eminescu High School. Victoria is one of four Child Helpline Ambassadors at this school and has chosen to provide the information session to a group of students who had been identified as being “problematic”.
"I wanted to show them they are not different but unique, and the EVA project just came at the right time. I will be with them as long as I can to support them so that they can have a happier life. Each time I offer them a piece of advice, appreciation, or encouragement that will change them. That makes me proud and connects me with other people and stories,” says Victoria.
After organizing three activities with the same class, Victoria noticed attitude changes among them. They had all found a way to cope, build stronger friendships, and supported and protected one other.
In both high schools in Ungheni, young people can anonymously report cases of violence by leaving a message in the post box on the information board, symbolically in the shape of a heart. There, children can also find all the essential information about the Child Helpline and the help they can get.
"Every morning, I check if there is a message there, and I never find anything. Sometimes it makes me sad because I realize that we need to work more on gaining children's trust so that they feel free and confident to report violence. However, on the other hand, I am happy because this shows that violence in our school is not a frequent phenomenon. We manage to prevent these cases before they degenerate into serious situations,” said Ionela.
“I hope that what we are doing will contribute to changing society's thinking and combating gender stereotypes. Every child has the right to be protected, and there can be no valid reason to justify violence," Bianca added.
The story of Ionela, Victoria, and Bianca is being published on International Women's Day as an example of UNICEF's commitment to gender equality and ensuring that the rights of girls and women are respected.
Note: This article was developed with the support of the EVA project "Promoting gender equality in Cahul and Ungheni districts", funded by the European Union and implemented by UN Women and UNICEF Moldova.