2014 Changemaker: Ethelind Kaba

It’s difficult to be a teen or a tween girl.

Expectations come from every direction: parents, friends, school. There are also the outside influences, messages and pressures broadcast on television, magazines and online, that shape how young women view themselves.

As a mother of three – including a tween daughter – Ethelind Kaba knew that without support systems in place, the tween and teen years can be confusing and difficult to navigate.

As a young girl growing up in Ghana, Kaba was raised with a strong sense of community. “If someone saw you doing something [wrong] in the street, they let you know. Adults took responsibility for everyone,” Kaba says. “Here, it’s very different.”

She began looking for support, searching for a program that created community for young girls.

“My own daughter was getting older, and I saw this change in her,” Kaba says. “This carefree person was starting to try to figure out identity, to ask the question – ‘where do I fit in?’ I found that there were programs out there for girls labeled ‘at risk’ – but I really wondered about taking a more proactive approach.”

In fall 2013, Kaba decided to start a group for friends of her daughter. In January, she opened the group to any girls.

She created StarGirl Initiative (SGI), a community group that builds self-esteem in girls. This initiative is also based on the idea that you are your own person. Kaba and her daughter, Yayra, were inspired by the name of the Jerry Spinelli book, “Stargirl.” It stuck, and a small group of girls began meeting at Pearl Park Community Center in Minneapolis.

Kaba recruited volunteer facilitators to share their expertise with the girls, holding monthly empowerment workshops focused on topics relevant and interesting to girls, like girl power, body image and cyber life. These workshops promote healthy self-confidence and help the girls evaluate their attitudes and beliefs in their everyday interactions.

“There are positive vibes in the group,” says 13-year-old Keah Spurgeon, who attends the group regularly with her sister. “I’m learning about being a strong leader and about being myself. It’s a good place to say how you want to claim your power, as a girl, to get where you want to get and to talk about what you can become.”

The girl group has worked with Second Harvest Heartland and the Jeremiah Program, to promote social responsibility and community involvement, both important components to the program. “I think these experiences so close to home made the girls think. It made them more appreciative and sensitive,” says Kaba, who lives in Edina.

She has big hopes and plans for SGI. After wrapping up a summer reading program, StarGirl Initiative is headed toward programming in a Minneapolis middle school in January. Kaba is working with co-volunteer Catherine Flynn to develop a curriculum that includes a mentoring component, pairing middle school girls with young women in high school and college, and weekly meetings with a theme and activity.

“We are, as humans, very reactionary,” Kaba says. “This is a more proactive way of looking at the experience of being a girl. The goal is to get some of these girls in to talk about issues before there’s a problem.”

Check out the StarGirl Initiative website for upcoming workshop dates and additional opportunities: www.stargirlinitiative.org
Some links and resources about encouraging girl power that SGI loves:
• Dove Self Esteem Project – Articles and ideas on addressing issues that face girls, including tips on boosting self-esteem: selfesteem.dove.us
• Because I am a Girl – Here are nine girl power movies with strong female leads: blog.becauseiamagirl.ca/girl_power_movies_netflix