Leyla is now 21, with a four-year-old son named Salim. Photo by Mina Kaci.
She was like an earthquake: shaking everyone around her to the core, exposing their fault lines, damaging their usual demeanor, and challenging their beliefs in what should be the order of things. Unlike other huge natural phenomena like typhoons and hurricanes, earthquakes don’t have names—but this one did, because it was a positive earthquake. It was called Leyla.
Leyla is the new normal for girls in Niger. A girl of 18 who spoke her mind, she was at the youth center to talk about how she benefited from an eight-month empowerment program for adolescent girls to reduce child marriage and teen pregnancy. Leyla had been chosen to speak because she had completed a program called Illimin, which in Houasa means “the knowledge.” Developed by UNFPA, Illimin has since become the flagship program of the government of Niger and is a successful model of what works in adolescent empowerment and child marriage and teen pregnancy reduction.