Social Impact Heroes: How Larissa Sousa is helping to promote gender equality and education for girls in Mozambique

Authority Magazine
Jun 12, 2020 · 9 min read

Our cause is to keep girls in school and out of early marriages. There are many people involved in these efforts. Aside from the 2,000 girls in our clubs, we have 100 promoters (young people who we recruit and hire to be the facilitators of the clubs’ sessions) and 1,000 madrinhas who are influential women in the community helping us keep an eye on the girls in the communities. They are the godmothers of the girls in the clubs. All of these people play an important part in our girls’ clubs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Larissa Sousa. She is the manager of the Girls Education Program (Girls Clubs) in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The main objective of the program is to keep girls in school and to help them better their reading skills.

Sousa has a diverse educational background. She completed her primary and secondary schooling in Mozambique but then moved to Finland where she earned her bachelor’s degree in international business administration. She recently finished her master’s degree in business administration.

Prior to joining Gorongosa National Park, Sousa worked in Germany, primarily at Daimler-Benz as the person of contact for the PLS (ProductionLearningSystem) program between Germany and Brazil. In Mozambique, she also worked for the Centro Educacional Njerenje as the Assistant Administrator and as a Location Manager for the American Demining Project called The HALO Trust in Chimoio.

Through her current role, Sousa is passionate about having a part in changing the lives of many women and girls living around Gorongosa National Park.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I guess life did. I am a believer of destiny, and this was always mine. I have always studied and liked business, but I have been working on education and women empowerment for the past six years and have enjoyed it a lot. I came to Gorongosa National Park four years ago, just before completing my master’s degree. I asked the park employees at the time to help me with my dissertation on the logging industry and that is how we got to know each other. Then, Mr. Greg Carr, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Boise who founded the Gorongosa Project with the Mozambican government, invited me to start the girls clubs. I accepted it and it has been quite a journey ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your role?

That is a tough question. I have so many interesting stories every day at the park. It is very dynamic work that we do, and while we only know how the day starts, we never know how it will end. That is what makes this work so interesting and challenging.

If I had to pin it down to one interesting thing, I would say seeing the girls grow up and become young women. Here, early marriage and pregnancy prevent girls from finishing their education. The girls’ guardians are used to following tradition, which says that as soon as a girl begins her menstrual cycle, she is mature and has to be married. However, there is another path for these girls to take, and we make sure that it doesn’t get overlooked. When the parents are engaged and recognize the importance of educating their child, it is such a rewarding feeling. Many of these parents and guardians have very little or no education at all, so the challenge is explaining the value of it and making it justifiable within their traditions. All of this is not easy.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It is hard to talk about our personal mistakes — I guess it is human nature. However, I remember one time when we went to meet with some communities at the beginning of the girls’ program. At the time, I was wearing jeans, and when I stood up to talk to everyone, people started whispering in the local language. It got very distracting, so I had to stop and ask my male colleague to take over. This happened because these communities were not used to seeing a woman in a leadership position and speaking out in the open without wearing a Capulana, which is a covering on top of the jeans. People were not ready for that, especially in the beginning of our talks about the importance of girls’ education and the introduction of our programs. The lesson I learned was that we need to understand and get to know the audience before giving a public talk. Also, showing the audience that we respect their beliefs will help get our message through to them.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I work for Gorongosa National Park. Its main objective is strengthening biodiversity and conservation alongside increasing the human development of the communities around the buffer zone. The buffer zone is a densely populated area outside the park. The people living there are a key part of making sure the park is healthy and functioning well. I don’t know of a better way to positively impact the lives of people and the environment at the same time. We are providing jobs to the people around the park, training them, building improved infrastructure as well as providing healthcare services to people who had no or little access to these before.

The work I do is centered around girls’ education. We ensure that more than 2,000 girls are continuing their education, that the girls are out of early marriages and that their families are engaged in education and valuing it for everyone in the household.

I’m proud of the work we are doing in Gorongosa National Park, but there is still more to do. I’m inspired by all the people outside the park who are helping us make a difference. One way that is happening is through Gorongosa Coffee. The company is owned by the trust that funds Gorongosa National Park, putting 100% of the profits back into the Park. Every bag of Girls Run the World coffee supports one day of education for a girl in Gorongosa. It is a key part of making sure we provide a path for all 20,000 girls living in the buffer zone to attend high school in buildings that are properly constructed. Short of being here on the ground in Gorongosa National Park, drinking Gorongosa Coffee is the next best way for people to directly support the work we are doing.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Our cause is to keep girls in school and out of early marriages. There are many people involved in these efforts. Aside from the 2,000 girls in our clubs, we have 100 promoters (young people who we recruit and hire to be the facilitators of the clubs’ sessions) and 1,000 madrinhas who are influential women in the community helping us keep an eye on the girls in the communities. They are the godmothers of the girls in the clubs. All of these people play an important part in our girls’ clubs.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Each of these groups has a different role in the pursuit of girls’ education and the reduction of early marriage. This is not a one-way problem, and only together can we fight it and win it.

Community: Engagement and commitment. We need to see this in our local communities. Because of Gorongosa Coffee, individuals outside of Gorongosa National Park can also be part of the solution.

Society: We need to focus on gender equality and ensure men and women are given equal opportunities. They should be seen by society as being able to do anything and not be judged for what they want to do.

Politicians: This group of individuals should focus on improved quality of education for all with a focus on women’s special needs. There also needs to be enforcement of the laws against early marriages.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is leading by example. Even though you are on the front line, you always need to act and be part of the team. Being a leader can be challenging because you need to motivate, correct problems and keep people engaged in what you’re working toward. While you are always moving forward, it does not mean that you can’t go back when necessary to make sure you are taking even bigger steps toward reaching the goal.

An example I like to use is about behavior change. This can take a long time, even generations, to do. In the case of preventing girls from getting married early, we are always going back to this goal and making strides toward reaching it. If we had 15 girls getting married before, and now we have five, this is big progress towards the end result we want, which is no early marriages at all.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I think learning from experience is something we all have to go through. I don’t think many things would be that different if people would have told me some of these things before, but there are some words of encouragement that helped me go through the journey:

  1. This is not going to be easy, and you have to stay strong.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe in gender equality and education. I think if we work on these two things together, only better things can come out of it. The more educated we are, the more good we do for each other and the earth through conservation. Then, equality will ensure justice and a healthy division of things in society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life lesson: ‘What goes around comes around.’ Whatever you do to people or to the earth is going to come back around to you, so remember to always try your best to do good. If you don’t, what will come back to you will be whatever you have given/planted.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

My list is long, so I wouldn’t be able to give you one name now. Both Michelle Obama and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin are on the top of my list. They are women who I admire a lot and inspire me in the work I do every day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: Larissa Sousa, Gorongosa National Park, Gorongosa Coffee

Instagram: @luvsousa18 and @gorongosacoffee

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Authority Magazine

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Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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