MAKING HISTORY: DZIDZORNU’S STORY
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It’s half past six on a drizzling Monday morning, and Dzidzornu, 18, is standing under a tree in the schoolyard with a group of school prefects. Her voice is calm, warm, and assertive as she speaks to them. “Our role as prefects is to lead our peers by example. When we treat them with respect, they will treat us with respect. When we litter on the school compound, they will do same,” she says. She reminds them of their responsibilities as prefects and plans the day with them. This has been her routine since the historic election when students voted her as the first female Head Prefect of her school.
Prefects are school leaders who are elected by students on the basis of leadership competencies, academic excellence, and their plans for school transformation. Prefects help to maintain order among students, act as the liaison between students and school management, and contribute to maintaining cleanliness, order and safety at school.
A few years ago, Dzidzornu recoiled at the thought of standing in front of her peers. Her shyness and low self-esteem made it difficult for her to make friends and speak up in class. The thought of running for a leadership position at school never even crossed her mind. But that all changed when she joined her school's Junior Leadership Club.
“I feel so good about my new position because I represent the voices of all students, both girls and boys.” Dzidzornu, 18
Dzidzornu joined her school’s Junior Leadership Club in 2021 at the invitation of her teacher. Dzidzornu's mother had been concerned about her daughter's shyness and low self-esteem, and she asked the teacher for help building her daughter's confidence.
Organized by Right To Play-trained teachers, the Junior Leadership Club is a place where students develop leadership skills and learn about issues like child rights, child protection and gender equality. The club is youth-focused, and empowers students to speak up on the issues that affect their lives. Teachers use playful games and activities to create a sense of connectedness, confidence, and empowerment.
Dzidzornu loved the club. She felt supported, and appreciated the chance to be herself and learn how to lead. Her public speaking, collaboration and problem-solving skills quickly started to improve. Within the year, she had decided to run for the position of prefect for her grade. To her surprise, she won! She says it was one of the best days of her life.
Taking the Next Step
In November 2022, Dzidzornu took the audacious step of running for the position of Head Prefect of the whole school. She knew it was a long shot: the school had never had a female Head Prefect before. She took the chance because she wanted to play a more active role in driving change in the school.
“My friends from the Junior Leaders Club encouraged me to run for the position because they thought I could use the same leadership approaches they had seen me use at the club to inspire other students,” she says.
In her platform, Dzidzornu said she wanted to advocate for increased food portions at the school canteen. She also wanted to improve the relationship that students have with prefects. She felt this was important because in the past, the negative attitudes of prefects towards students had led to rebellion and disrespect of authority by the students. A few students also decided to stop attending classes for fear of being maltreated by prefects.
Campaigning for the Head Prefect position wasn't easy. Dzidzornu wasn't a well-known or popular student. Support from her friends and her mother helped. And, she says, “the training I received from the Junior Leaders Club helped me believe in my leadership capabilities. I was able to clearly express the problems of students and boldly articulate my solutions."
A Seat at the Table
On election day, more than half of the student population cast a vote for Dzidzornu. She beat out the five male candidates to become the first female Head Prefect of her school.
“I wasn’t expecting to win this because I stood against many boys. There were five boys I was competing with.” - Dzidzornu
As Head Prefect, Dzidzornu leads a team of eight prefects. She encourages the student leaders to share their successes and challenges and discuss how to improve the school and the student experience.
Being the Head Prefect comes with many responsibilities that Dzidzornu has to balance with the demands of her studies.
“I live far from my school, so I normally wake up around 4 a.m. every day to pray, study, do my household chores and then walk an hour and a half long distance to school,” she says. She gets to school earlier than most students so she has enough time to go through her notes ahead of class.
“When I started in my role as the main prefect, a lot of students didn’t know what was in me and thought I could not lead like the boys did,” she says.
Some students disrespected Dzidzornu when she spoke to them because she's a girl. But she didn't let those challenges stop her. And it didn't take long for her peers to recognize her leadership and start looking up to her.
“Many girls want to run for the Head Prefect position now.” - Dzidzornu
Dzidzornu's commitment and vision have improved the relationship between prefects and students. In everything she does, she tries to lead by example.
“I've trained the prefects on topics like self-discipline and treating students with respect. I passed on this knowledge from training I received from the club.”
“Some of the girls tell me they want to be like me and I’m so proud of this change. This has been my biggest achievement.”
Read about Dzidzornu’s first engagement with Right To Play’s program here