THE AFRICAN QUEENS PROJECT

THE AFRICAN QUEENS PROJECT

THE AFRICAN QUEENS PROJECT

Inspire to Aspire

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African Queens Project Named Finalist in Google Competition

April 22, 2014

African Queens Project founder, Gloria Mangi,  was named by Google as one of the top 20 African innovators who are using the internet to change lives. Google came and did a short documentary about African Queens Project and the founder as seen in the clip below. Thank you to everyone for your continued support.

*NEW CAMPAIGN* – African Queens Project – Going Rural

November 12, 2013

 

 

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A MESSAGE FROM THE FOUNDER:

Everybody has a story and a story has the power to change someone’s life. The award-winning project, African Queens Project, has become the source of all things related and affecting African women. We collect the stories of phenomenal women from around African who are shaping their communities and countries and put it on the website in the form of videos, interviews, and audio bites as well as sharing news stories and articles about African Women. For to long African women have been marginalised and we have taken the initiative of changing women’s mindset to believe that the impossible is possible.

We want to make African Queens Project more accessible to women and girls within the rural areas in Tanzania by creating applications, books and conducting workshops enforcing our message of leadership and working towards your dreams.  We would also like to create documentaries about phenomenal women and girls doing amazing things from the grassroots level and instilling change in their communities. We also want to do this at absolutely NO cost to the women and girls who can benefit from our services.  This is where we need YOUR help.

Your contribution in any amount will be instrumental in changing the lives of women and young girls living in villages who think that this is as good is as its going to get. Change begins in the mind and mindset transformation is key if we want to see a new generation of women who can be the leaders of tomorrow.

If you would like to support us you can do so by going to this link:

http://igg.me/at/africanqueensproject/x/5356679

I would like to say a BIG thank you to all the friends and supporters who have believed in this project thus far and have seen it go from being a dream to a reality.

You are royalty!

Warm Regards,
Gloria Mangi
African Queens Project Founder
 

 

 

*NIGERIA* – Ndidi D. Nwaobasi: The Developer

November 9, 2013

BACKGROUND

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I grew up in Senegal where I am the second born of  3 children. I currently work in a global consultancy firm (Dalberg Global Development Advisors) focusing on Management and Strategy for development. I have worked on a wide range of projects in the sectors of ICT, health, agriculture, and education. My work spans research and sector analysis, project coordination and implementation, business planning and strategy development, evaluation of programs, projects and functions.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

My background is in Banking and Insurance and honestly I never imagined one day I would be working in the consultancy field. The adventure began in the year 2008. After my current boss had two different people talk to her about me, an interview was set for us to touch base and five years later, here I am very passionate about what I do especially when the projects deal with gender empowerment, education or simply have a tangible impact on the lives of the end beneficiaries.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

After God, it is my family.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

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Oh yes! At times you have those gut wrenching feelings that you do not follow and it turns out if you had followed them things could have been done differently.

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

So far what I consider my greatest achievement is my personal contribution to a project I was implementing here in Senegal. Co-funded by USAID and The Sonatel Foundation, this project program is aimed to support USAID-Senegal and Government of Senegal’s objective to create better educated youth by supporting secondary education access and retention for high-achieving and disadvantaged girls.

The program specifically sought to provide the support girls need to complete middle and secondary school by addressing the challenges that hamper girls’ education in target schools and regions. The main components of the program were: (1) providing scholarships (both cash and non-cash components such as school kits and hygiene products) and mentoring to the beneficiaries.                                                                                                                    (2) Providing income generation support to mothers of scholarship recipients and other women in the target communities.                                                                                                                                                                       (3) The third and last component of the program involved public awareness and advocacy to emphasize the importance of girls’ education, school retention and thus result in higher acceptance of girls’ education, increased school attendance and achievement for girls, and increased promotion/transition to upper school grades.

During this project, I was actively involved in all three components and often had to spend weeks in the field to ensure proper implementation. One of the activities in the first component consisted in organizing a summer camp for the young girls. During the summer camp, I took part in discussions with the young girls to get an understanding of challenges they faced on a daily basis and what could be done to help address them.

Among challenges faced they indicated how difficult it was for them to express themselves in the French (the learning language) as they would be mocked by their fellow classmates who would rather express themselves in the local language and tease them stating they were show offs. This resulted in the the young girls developing a complex to express themselves in French in school and in their communities and was affecting their grades. Along with a colleague we were able to get a French NGO to donate over 1,000 books and I funded the shipping of the books from France to Dakar with a (2,000 USD grant), I had received for a project I was to implement. I had absolutely no regrets using that grant to help the girls as the books received enabled the girls to enrich their French vocabulary and that of their close entourage who could read. The project ended in September this year with over 90% of success rate for the girls who were in exam classes.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

The combination of my gender and nationality. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be Nigerian. The struggles I face being a young Nigerian occurs usually during my travels especially when going through customs be it here or in other countries. Although, this does not happen every single time, at times customs officers ask me to step aside so they can double check my suitcase after I present my passport. This is usually not an issue to me as I know the best way to be done with this is to cooperate. However, the place this really shocked me was in an East African country.

It was my very first visit to the country and after presenting my passport at customs I was asked to step aside so my suitcase could be checked for drugs. The officer that asked me to step aside asked me why a young female Nigerian was traveling alone although I had presented all my papers (passport, invitation letter from the client institution in the country with phone numbers of staff members in the institution)…Thank God I was with a colleague and when he noticed the police officers had pulled me aside he came asking them what the issue was. Once he indicated we were colleagues, they handed back my papers and suitcase without searching it and told me I could go. Depending on the country, I am always aware that custom officers can give me a hard time especially when I travel alone.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

I practice the meaning my name… Ndidi which means patience.  When I am faced with such situations, I keep my cool, explain the purpose of my presence in the country, present my papers and let the officers do their job. When I feel offended, I write a correspondence to the Nigerian representation to inform them of the situation.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

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I believe, I would not be the person I am today if I did not have the family I am blessed to have. Each member in their own way has helped build the person I am and influence the decisions I make.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Each and every one of us have our own story, I believe it is important to share my story only if it helps make a difference in other people’s lives as little as the impact may be.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

I think prevalent issues women face in their everyday life is work life balance. I know men also have these issues but in a society where women are constantly asked to step up their game, to keep their family together while giving their best at work it becomes more and more difficult for our super women to cope and find their balance.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?                                               

I think it is important to define our priorities and work by those. Once you know what is important to you, it is easier to find your balance.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

You need to be passionate about development or it may be very challenging both professionally and personally.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

I am yet to have an opportunity to give back to Nigeria, but in the meantime, wherever I have the opportunity to provide support, be it in the country where I live or elsewhere I do so. For example, a friend of mine has an NGO called DGirls in Cameroon and provides after school mentoring to young girls aged 10 to 19 to empower them and help them better prepare for their future. Whether, it is to take time to discuss with the young girls on matters and challenges they face in their everyday life or help raise funds for the activities of her NGO, I am always happy to do so.

Here in Senegal, I volunteered on a project aiming to build a hospital in an area which was in daring need of it. This resulted in the organization resorting to opening a mobile clinic which to date has served over 2000 patients in that community and its surroundings.

Within my firm, I am part of a committee called D. Community, the purpose of this community is to find ways in which we can give back to the community as consultants. Among our achievements, the office took part in a race organized by USAID to raise funds for the PEGE program in 2012. This year, we went into universities to provide students with training on how to get ready for a job interview. We provided the students with tips and tricks on how to develop a stellar CV and introduced them to the concept of case studies which is not very common in Senegal.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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I would share my personal motto which is: Love what you do, give it your 100% and the rest will follow.

*MALAWI*- Chikondi Precious-Chabvuta: Women’s Land Rights Officer

November 7, 2013 3 Comments

BACKGROUND

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Chikondi Precious Chabvuta is the first born in her family of seven, she has a background in Environmental Science and is working for Actionaid International Malawi as Women and Land Rights Officer. She is involved in the emancipation of women and girls in land to maximize the benefits that could be accrued from land in agriculture, enhancing the needs of women in the agricultural and environmental spaces. She enjoys role modeling events to mentor to young girls and to encourage them to finish school and aim high. Previously, she was working for Farmers Union of Malawi as a Gender Mainstreaming Coordinator where she delivered on coordinating gender initiatives and mainstreamed issues for FUM and making policies for the organization and its partners on issues of gender, women empowerment and governance. Before joining FUM, she was involved in research work at Bunda College of Agriculture that involved empowering women farmers through research results. Chikondi is geared for improving women’s participation in agricultural sector and she is a beneficiary of the New Mexico State University’s Service Learning for women program that seeks to inspire and empower women in agricultural careers so that they can excel as leaders in local and global communities.

Chikondi is a recipient and active member of the following notable organizations making a difference for the youth and women in Africa: The prestigious African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), The esteemed Moremi Institute for Leadership Development (MILEAD),  Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD)  and The  Young African Leaders (YALI) Program.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

I am from an Agro-based society and have always seen how women are in the forefront of tilling the land in the country but their efforts are not appreciated. This has always pained me, and also our agricultural methods are still in the hand hoe era.  I want to witness the drift form that to mechanization and modern ways where farming is not seen as a curse. Another reason, is that I am moved to see agriculture which gives food destroying the land so I aim to sensitize women who are the tillers of the land to embark on sustainable farming to maintain the environment, curb climate change effects but still benefit more from the land. I am also interested in ICT(Information and communications technology) for agriculture and environment.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

Wangaari Mathai is my role model on her fight for environmental restoration, Siku Nkhoma for her fight to end poverty in the country, Linda Stout for her generosity and kindness, Grace Malindi, David Mkwambisi and Jennipher Sakala for their intellectual and professional guidance. These are a few of the many role models that I look up to.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

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I am glad with the way my life is turning out; so far things are going well! All thanks to God who has been good to me all the time!

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

For me, the greatest achievement was doing my Msc while working and helping the adoption of the ecological sanitation research. This was my moment of greatest satisfaction. Every time, I see women’s lives being changed due them allowing me to guide them and engage with them, I get fulfilled.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

More so from being a young woman, my challenges include having to talk to women farmers, older ones on agricultural and environmental messages. Being young and a female also faces resistance with men who tend to ask “what do I know?” But with time, respect is built and it only takes time but I wish my age or my gender did not influence my work, sometimes I wish I was older.
Another challenge, is sexual harassment which goes unreported because our rules tend to favor men and the woman who reports always ends up the victim.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

Having focus, there are several opinions different groups are going to have but when you are focused and are prepared, you can handle any audience. Having this challenge has built my planning, presentation and time management skills so that I go out to several groups prepared and ready, it shows the level of seriousness and also how focused one is.

With sexual harassment, it has been overcome by speaking out to the perpetrators to ensure they treat you as an equal professionally. Not being subdued and having my mentor Don Boyd who helped me through constructive dialogue to overcome this challenge that is usually a silent fight among a lot of women, but I overcame it through constructive dialogue.

Having low confidence was overcome by reassuring oneself of my value, it is always better for oneself to realize your worth and not depend on the opinions of other people.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

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Well, family is important, it makes life worth living. I think it is also important to have a work life balance to ensure you maintain professional focus but you also have time for family, it is God’s blessing.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

When you share your story, another women could be in a similar situation as you and can benefit from your experience. I reach out  more when I hear other women’s  stories and would love to share my story because it can impact another women positively.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

Having to juggle between family and work is a challenge. Cultural constraints like in our country, where the more quicker you are as a woman, the more respect you gain. Which ends up holding a lot of great ideas women have and  one of the ways they can use it is though the trend of eroding. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also there for women and it is treated silently.  Also, having an unsupportive spouse or fellow women also tends to kill most women’s self-esteem. At household level, in our culture boys are told to be leaders from a young age and not girls, this also tends to influence the level of confidence and self-esteem between girls and boys.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

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Constructive dialogue as taught by Don Boyd where everyone should be able to engage and negotiate with others to ensure they get what they want but also having mentors who can help you cross the professional circle with ease.  Most importantly, more organizations should mainstream gender and recognize gender roles of women and men by  creating spaces that would allow both  balance in work life and  flexible hours for nursing mothers. Girls and boys should be treated equally right from their homes to their schools, so that confidence between the sexes is equal.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

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Work hard, focus, and be innovative in the approach to agriculture and environment using a gender lens. It is a fulfilling career path which is holistic for all the needs of a human being and hence satisfying which leaves an impact!

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

I hold role modeling events to school girls and boys and mostly girls to ensure that they focus on education and have goals in life and to always aim higher. Also, I volunteer to do charity work through the Lions Club, I am a Leo and it gives me the space to contribute to my community. I also offer free agricultural advice to women farming in my community.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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Have a goal, focus on that goal, no matter the obstacles and they will be there even though they are a lot of them  always focus and remember to work hard and pray!

*GHANA* – Annette Joseph-Gabriel: The Educator

October 16, 2013

  • BACKGROUND

Annette Joseph-Gabriel is a doctoral candidate in French at Vanderbilt University. Her research focuses on women’s political participation and representation in anti-colonial movements in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean (1940s-1960s). She has also done work in the field of second language acquisition and the use of new technologies in foreign language pedagogy and is currently developing an ipad app to teach Martinican Creole to native English speakers using Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) methods. In addition to teaching undergraduate French courses at Vanderbilt, she has also worked as a translator for Plan Ireland and the Bureau National d’Ethnologie in Haiti (a UNESCO affiliated organization), as a Youth Activities Coordinator for Afrique Conseil in France and as Special Programs Manager for Moremi Initiative (a UN Women-Africa partner). She is currently the Managing Editor of Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender and the Black International. Her dissertation is directed by Tracy Sharpley-Whiting.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

Apparently I have always sounded like an academic. In high school, my English teacher used to call me “Professor.” It baffled me at the time, but I guess he knew all along. I suppose I really just went where my interests naturally led me. I’ve always loved to learn, ask questions, explore a subject. Above all I love to read. My favourite reading place was underneath the big family dining table or behind the curtains. Sometimes my parents would poke their heads in and say “do you know the house is burning down?” I’d mumble a hasty reply and get back to whatever I was reading: a novel, an encyclopaedia, anything with words really. So I guess it makes sense that I am training to be a university professor in the field of foreign languages and literatures.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

My mum because she is the most eloquent person I know. My grandma because she is the strongest woman I know.

My grandpa because he taught me to ask questions and to love learning.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

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I suppose being faced with the realities of the job market today makes me wish sometimes that I had done something more “practical” like an MBA (shudders). But if I were to be really truly honest with myself, no, I would absolutely not change it for the world. If I could go back though I might try to be more engaged in community work than I am now. I’d like for that little girl reading under the table to find a balance between her encyclopaedia and the rest of the world around her.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

While I am influenced by people who have similar personalities to mine, I am actually inspired by people who are polar opposites to me. My dad is amazing because he is a true entrepreneur. He’s done everything I’m terrified to do: leave a comfortable structure, go out into the real world and build a wonderful business from scratch! All while being acutely aware of the needs of less-privileged people around him.

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

I’m not there yet. When I get my PhD, I think that’ll be the greatest achievement of my life!

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

Gosh. This is actually a difficult one. I suppose the usual stories of being obliged to go to the kitchen apply here. But much of the gender inequality that drives my work has been from observing others’ experiences rather than my own. I’m grateful that I haven’t had huge struggles or that I remain blissfully unaware of them.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

I suppose prayer and hard work would be my go-to answers here.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Family for me is everything. It’s been a little difficult because I no longer live in the same country as my nuclear family. That has been a big challenge for me. But my family has been extremely supportive of my decisions to travel and move and for that I very grateful. I’m also married and all this work and moving has an impact on that relationship as well. But my husband is just an amazingly calm, reflective person who makes me feel like I have two feet firmly planted on the ground even in the midst of travel and moving.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Absolutely! I think that as the world moves more towards valuing science and technology (which are great!) we are losing sight of that most important, basic human instinct: to communicate. Sharing my story with other women will at the very least serve as an example to someone somewhere maybe, about the possibilities available, and also about the kind of work women, particularly African women still need to do in order to attain those possibilities and accomplish our goals.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

Just.being.heard! I can’t tell you many times people resort to easy gender put downs as a way of shutting a woman up. This happens whether a woman is trying to articulate something for her children, her family, or make herself heard at work. There are so many macro and microaggressions and as soon as we point them out as gender discrimination we are called “overly sensitive.” I remember that a number of Moremi Fellows were invited on a TV talk show in Ghana during our inaugural year (2009). These were accomplished women in every aspect of the word, I mean the kind whose credentials make you go wow! They eloquently expressed the mission of Moremi and discussed their experiences so far travelling to Ghana to meet with other African women and explore questions of leadership together. At the end the host laughed and said “thank you beautiful ladies. We will tolerate you here.” This is an example of microaggression. It is problematic because it seems so benign. Something we can shrug it off because after all there are bigger fish to fry, girls need to go to school etc. But today how many men will proudly stand up and say “I am sexist, send all the women to the kitchen?” Microaggression is the new gender hierarchy and we need to be aware of how the problem is evolving if we are to find effective solutions.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

My clear bias is towards education. I applaud all the great initiatives out there working with women and young girls to address problems in healthcare, financial security etc. But you can’t drag a continent into an era of equality if half the population is digging their heels in. Top-down policies work to a limited extent, but to really change patriarchal attitudes we need lots of community work to sensitize folks.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Go for it! There is absolutely no reason why you can’t attain your highest goal, whatever that may be. Just be sure (as much as possible) that it is what you actually want. And don’t believe people who start advice with “if only women would…” There are real, obstacles to attaining gender parity in the workforce, in education, in politics. But at the same time be encouraged by the examples of women who have overcome some of the greatest obstacles. Not myself per se, but there are so many Moremi Fellows whose inspirational stories do not leave a dry eye in the room. Get connected!

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

Right now I think my research is one of the ways I am giving back. I think that researching women’s historical participation in politics, especially around the crucial time of independence, could provide us with a blueprint for attaining better integration of women in politics today. It’s one of the MDGs that we are really struggling with in Ghana. Sometimes people talk as though they have absolutely no idea how to even begin to tackle the problem, as if we don’t have a history to learn from. I also try to give back through my teaching, because community for me is very broadly defined. I’ve been working a lot lately with non-traditional students who might be having difficulties. For many of these students (some from immigrant African backgrounds) I’m the only African teacher they’ve seen at the university and knowing that I genuinely care about their work, despite the limited resources I think is important to them.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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Don’t stop learning!

*LESOTHO* – Sebabatso Manoeli: The Lover

October 5, 2013 1 Comment

  • BACKGROUND

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Lesotho-born Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University PhD student, Sebabatso Manoeli, researches African histories and politics. Her current research focuses on the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement. Prior to the PhD, she obtained an MSc in African Studies from Oxford University, where she was awarded the African Studies Prize for her dissertation.  For her undergraduate degree, she received the Mandela scholarship at Amherst College where she majored in Political Science and Black Studies. It was at Amherst where she also had the opportunity to study abroad at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.

While working at the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations as a research assistant, her work included analyzing the strategic challenges to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and to combatting the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She was awarded the Machel-Mandela Internship at the Brenthurst Foundation in 2012 where her research focused on Lesotho’s textile industry and the experience of Chinese traders in Africa. She has also worked as a research assistant for international political commentators including Roger Cohen and Jonny Steinberg.

In addition to her commitment to applying her mind to the intractable and complex problems of our time, Ms Manoeli is also passionate about social justice and Africa’s political transformation. Subsequently, she has hosted a weekly radio show focusing on African current affairs on Oxford University’s student radio station. In 2011, she was a speaker at the 55th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women hosted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City where she addressed the challenges to women’s engagement in the political space in Africa. She worked at the African Leadership Academy as the External Relations Analyst. In 2010, she led an anti-human-trafficking campaign through several South African cities during the World Cup. She is also a 2009 Senior Fellow of the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa. Currently, Ms Manoeli currently serves as the 2013-14 President of the Oxford University Africa Society.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did? 

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There are three reasons. Firstly, for about ten years, I have been acutely aware of the global asymmetries of power and I have desired to help correct them. As a teenager, I was specifically concerned by the scarcity of African women in decision-making positions on an international stage. I decided then that I wanted to become one.

Secondly, I was born in the country affectionately called “the Kingdom in the Sky”, Lesotho, which is rich in beauty and tranquility. However, the economy of my home country led my family to work in the greener pastures of South Africa when I was a child. It was as a high school debater in the post-1994 South Africa, where I became fascinated with the possibility of critically engaging with the issues of our day to refine our democracy and empower the disempowered. Growing up in open societies that were also multicultural, gave me an appreciation for diversity and I sought to harness its power. I therefore aim at becoming the kind of leader who values the multiplicity of cultures and perspectives of the people she represents.

Finally, coming from two African countries helped me gain a sense of connectedness to the whole continent, thus I knew that I wanted to serve Africa in the realm of policymaking. In order to best serve Africa, I decided to devote myself to the study of the continent, to apply my mind to the challenges that it faces, to understand it so as to best serve it. Hence, I have aimed to become an expert with deep knowledge of the continent I deeply love.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

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 I have been greatly influenced by my Christian faith. I have thus grown to see the unseen, to believe in the transformation of the African political landscape, where freedom, justice and equality are guaranteed for every person in Africa, to see the revitalization of the continent’s economies and the restoration of dignity to the people of Africa. It has influenced my ability to have faith for a better future. I have also been influenced by the close and careful mentorship of many women and men who have spent hours with me, encouraging, teaching and advising me.

Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? 

I would have started reading meaningful books at a younger age. I believe that it would have made me a more interesting person and given me more of a competitive edge when applying for opportunities.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

My family motivates me to become all that I long to be. I am also fortunate to have a several close friends who believe in me and challenge me to grow. Moreover, I am inspired by the concept of love, and I wish to make it the foundational principal in the way I engage with power and leadership.

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

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It is difficult to say because what one considers as her greatest achievement is a reflection of how she defines success. Personally, I aim to define it by how much I am growing in love, humility and excellence. That makes it a “thing” of character. Since it is so hard to quantify, I believe that best way to perceive it would be by reflecting on the difficult moments of life that become tests of character. Ultimately, while this form of success will remain unquantifiable on a resume or a CV, I believe this strength of character will manifest in the authority and honor that a person receives from those with whom she is closest and those she leads.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

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There are two types of struggles that particularly affect me. Firstly, the double invisibility that comes from being a black female in male-dominated settings. In those settings, the men with whom I walked would be greeted and I would be ignored, their views considered and mine marginalized. Often it comes from well-meaning people who do so unwittingly because they have been socialized to value the voices of men and other majority groups. The second is the struggle to be seen as an equal and taken seriously rather than a potential romantic partner to men in male-dominated environments.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

Firstly, I became aware of the problem. This means I did not interpret being ignored as the result of any personal inadequacy, instead I interpreted it as a systemic vice, a flaw in the way power is organized in our present day and age. Women are not seen in certain environments, because to be male is to be “normal,” and women of racial minorities experience this more acutely.

Secondly, I have had to learn to speak up and be bold. For example, I will be the one to greet if I have been ignored, so I stretch my hand and offer a firm handshake. I look people in the eye with a confident look that silently speaks that I am present and should be seen and heard. I think our body language as women can empower us if we are aware of the subtle but powerful gestures we can make to be made “visible.”

Thirdly, I seek to be as professional and excellent as I can be. That means I do not give sexist people an opportunity to “prove” their prejudices by looking at me. I try to show up on time, work hard and keep clear boundaries with male colleagues in professional settings.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

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I would like to have a family of my own therefore I plan to make room in my life for that. This will require sacrifice and commitment, and I hope when the time is right, I will be ready to give myself to those important tasks. If I do have one, I will have to think carefully about how I wish to sequence my ambitions.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Yes, I believe we, as women, should be sharing our stories with each other, to inspire and help each other.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

In poor countries like mine, women continue to bear the brunt of poverty and disease. Life is hard and women are making difficult decisions everyday to survive and to help their loved ones survive. These women work in illegal vocations like prostitution or legal ones like domestic service. In their daily lives, they have little to no options to gain dignity and engage in the formal economy like men. Legislation regarding inheritance, domestic violence and sexual abuse in many countries continues to leave women vulnerable and disenfranchised. These policy decisions have implications of the daily lives of women.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

Much can be done to address these issues. To name a few, for sustainable gender justice on a macro-level, I believe it is imperative to have ethical political leadership; develop healthy economies and we should promote a culture of open opportunity.  On a micro-level, each individual can and must commit to promoting equality among women and men, and to inspiring the women in our lives to believe that they, too, can (and should) aspire to greatness.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

I would encourage her to have confidence in her gifts and vision. She does not need to conform to what is socially expected of her.  She should muster the courage to be heard. I would encourage her to develop holistically as a human being – which means in addition to advancing her career, she should, for example, develop emotional intelligence, nurture her own spiritual growth, and lead a healthy lifestyle.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

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I give back through remote mentorship and I give talks to young people. Further, my work focuses on Africa and I have had the privilege to make policy recommendations to people currently in positions of power.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

The world needs you, therefore become yourself – fully, freely.

*KENYA* – Sitawa Wafula: The Overcomer

August 12, 2013 1 Comment

  • BACKGROUND

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I am an only girl in a family of 4. Single. Lover of God, food, art, travel and moon watching. I am a poet and mental health & epilepsy crusader who recently got awarded for the East Africa Philanthropy Awards and Spark Kenya Change Makers Program. I also own an events company, Events by Sitawa and a jewelry line O-collection. I spend my days creating awareness about mental health through talks, my blog and media engagements after dropping out of Actuarial School due to my mental health condition which I developed after a rape ordeal.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

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It came by default when I got raped and later developed a mental health condition. I started writing a lot, trying to get answers of what I was feeling or going through and also releasing what was happening to me internally. It was also fueled by the fact that there is little information about mental health in the region.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

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My experiences, going through a rape ordeal and getting a mental health condition are life changing experiences that can make or break an individual. That coupled with people around me who have turned messes in their lives into messages inspire me.

Joseph from the Bible also inspires me from Pit to Portiphar’s house to Prison and later promotion.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance?

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Well yes, I do wish I didn’t get raped and sometimes I wish I could have gone ahead and finished my Actuarial Science studies and lived my life doing Mathematics, Probability or Statistics, but again this is what is my plate so I give my best at it and leave the rest to God and God can never give you more than you can handle.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

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Rape and Mental health are considered taboo topics in Africa, that and the fact that I did not have someone to talk to when I got raped and the lack of information in matters of mental health. I want to create a different environment for those to come. Also the responses for those who read my blog or hear my story really motivate me to keep going.

  •  What do you count as your greatest achievement?

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I have three things that happened in the span of a week so I am yet to wrap my head around which is the greater achievement; Getting into Spark Kenya Changemaker Program, being appointed as Assistant Secretary at the National Epilepsy Coordination Committee and winning the East Africa Philanthropy Awards in Youth Philanthropy.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

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Top of my head, the fact that I am a girl led to my getting raped so that has to be my greatest struggle and I think that one struggle overshadows everything else I go through.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

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A rape ordeal is a permanent scar that only I see. It was very hard at first, I contemplated suicide, attempted and failed and after that discovered, God has a purpose for my life. God is definitely my anchor. I decided to spend my life making things better for myself and others like me and that has turned out to be something bigger than myself.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

My family is my greatest support system. I still live with family because of past episodes, my relapses and risk associated with my mental health condition. When I am with family, I am more relaxed, get less episodes hence do my advocacy even better.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Yes, Yes it is very important for anyone to share their stories. I never knew I was to go to hospital or police or see a counselor when I got raped because that information was not readily available for me. Now I make sure that information is available for others and the responses I get reassure me I am on the right path, that I am making an impact in people’s lives. It is also therapeutic for me.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

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Through my talks and also from the emails I get, there are a number of mental health issues that women face, top most being depression. They have pressure to be a wife, a mother and still ‘play like the boys’ in the work place. They slowly lose touch with themselves in an attempt to fit into all these titles.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

Lifestyle management. There is greater need to literally teach people work life balance especially women as they wear so many hats and crash in the attempt to be perfect in all of them. Women need to be empowered to say no we cannot have a work related meeting over the weekend because I have to take care of the children. We need to structure our lives according to our limits and not people’s expectations as they do not walk in our shoes.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

1.      Have a goal – Know where are you going

2.      Know your target audience – We all have a price, place and people for our influence, we were not meant for everyone.

3.      Know your limits but do not limit yourself

4.      God -  Let Him be your beginning and end, take all your plans to Him and you will prosper

5.      Mentors  -  Learn, learn and learn some more. Have people ahead of you who you can look up to and learn from, also associate yourself with those who (not necessarily in your field) have goals similar to yours.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

I give my time. I spend my time educating people on mental health and expressing themselves through poetry.

  •  If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

Resilience – They should know what they want in life and go for it irregardless. There are many bumps on the road, I dropped out of University and now pursue a career in something I never spent a day learning about and I am a force of influence and voice of authority in it, so can they in whatever they set out to do.

Message from “African Queens Project” Founder: I wanted to add this video because I believe the message to be so important. This is a Mental Health Campaign awareness song featuring Sitawa Wafula with a beautiful Message

One Mind Lend Your Voice Campaign: Sitawa Wafula and Sanura – Call Me By My Name 

*SOUTH AFRICA* – Abergail “Mzz Abby” Plaatjes: The Fighter

August 2, 2013 5 Comments

  • Background

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I was born in Durban, South Africa in the Summer of 1977, to working class parents who were serial nomads. My mom, a Grade 1 teacher and just an all round amazing woman who loved each and every child she met and my dad a salesman, loved moving between two cities ie Port Elizabeth and Durban, where they were from. When you’re a kid, this lifestyle is super exciting and learning to fit in and adapt becomes part of the norm. With that being said, my older brother and I never had many problems with new surroundings and developing our characters according to our social sphere.

I also always knew that I would move and not be there for the rest of my life. I saw the way people lived and it just did not sit well with me. Our neighborhood was not a bad one, but growing up in apartheid South Africa, being neither black or white and being labelled ‘coloured’ and not being completely free to express yourself kind of makes you curious as to what the rest of the world is like. Music and television was an outlet and a sort of escape for my brother and I and this is where my dreams of moving on came from.

Growing up in apartheid South Africa was, I realize now, very different to how the rest of Africa is. After completing my studies ( my major being PR and Business Communication) and on the side I did Speech and Drama as my dream of working in television was rife from a very young age despite all the set backs I would encounter later on. I got involved in the corporate world, moved to Johannesburg at the age of 21 and decided to take on the world. Then in 2003 I got my ‘big break’ representing South Africa in the first Big Brother Africa reality show.

Being a part of this show gave me the opportunity to meet 12 amazing people from 12 different African countries, live with them, learn from them and most importantly learn about myself. I believe that we can only help and further our people when we are of the understanding that we are not much different to each other. We all have the same desires, hopes and needs. They may appear differently because of our cultures and backgrounds but at the end of the day everyone wants respect, kindness and peace.  After the show my life changed tremendously. I travelled extensively throughout our beautiful continent, was mesmerized by the people, its natural wonders, the cultures and the amount of humility everyone had. I got to work with so many different organizations and foundations ie UNICEF, UNAIDS, participating in school talks and culture drives in Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, Swaziland, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana, helping to administer anti retro virals in far away villages and so so much more that I’m not able to mention right now. This is when I realized how many amazing people we have dedicating their time and energy and basically just being good human beings to one another.

  • Why Did You Pick The Career Path That You Did?

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My career was inevitable. For me, the career chose me I didn’t choose it. I have wanted to work in television since I was a little kid and as time went by it grew into entertainment and working with people in general. My parents were rather strict and persistent when it came to education and they never really saw the benefits of me studying Speech and Drama, but it was a compromise we made for the greater good. I wanted acting, they wanted something more professional (which today I thank them for as my professional studies have come in handy assisting me with my entertainment career and making it my profession).

I also believe that when you have a calling, that one thing that you wish to do from an early age and it sticks with you as you grow, it will always find a way to weave itself into the fabric of your life. Its direction may change paths, but its core will remain and as you grow and mature you find the meaning in your work and how you are able to use your chosen career path to assist others with theirs.

There was something inside me. A desire which was not driven by me but rather by something much deeper. Today I identify with the God that lives in me and use this spirit to propel me further as I know if it was not for Him I would not be where I am. And mind you, I have so much further to go. Many times during my journey I have fallen, whether it was personally or professionally, but my spirit kept me going. The acknowledgement of self that I knew from a very young age, that I am meant to attain much more than where I am.

  •  Who and What are some of your Influences?

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I am influenced every single day by normal experiences and most especially my children. Being a single mom in a foreign country is not only challenging and daunting, but also a blessing in disguise.  Watching my kids grow and re-learning those small qualities that we tend to forget or lose along our path of growth into adulthood, shows me that God is present.

  •  Do You Wish You Could’ve Done Things Differently if given the Chance? 

If you asked me this a few years back I would have screamed ‘NO’ at the top of my voice. However, I have grown and I believe we have to look at our lives and decipher what it is we are doing. With that being said yes, there are many things I would’ve done differently. I can’t say that I regret anything, because then I wouldn’t have learnt the valuable lessons that came along with the mistakes, but if I was of the knowledge that I am now, then I would have to say yes. I am grateful to the Most High for giving me the strength and the wisdom to pull through and to forgive and to move forward without turning my nature into a remorseful one.

  • What and Who Inspires You?

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Oh wow so many! Personally mom and dad inspire me everyday for being together 45+ years and still going strong. They are such a testament of mutual support and respect to me as a woman as my mom finds no discouragement or humiliation in being the woman that holds her husband/best friend with the utmost of honor. For her to honor him is but a glorification of what it means to be a woman and I thank her everyday for giving me this gift. In today’s world, it is hard for women to see or even want to see themselves as the support system. Today women want to be the man in certain situations, and I believe this to be wrong. We are each intended to play our roles and yes, we have been oppressed tremendously in the past, however, there are certain things we just were not meant to do. Maintaining our femininity in this masculine world is how we will receive the recognition we so crave and desire especially within the confines of our personal lives. We need to realize that as women, we have the power to control situations and men are very much aware of this. Finding our balance and learning to project this positively is where we will be victorious. Be smart ladies.

I have also been extremely blessed to grow up in an era where we had so many legends in the making. Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Steve Biko, Princess Diana to name but a few who taught me and inspired me to be the person I still am learning to become. To accept each other for who we are and to remember that love is the eternal elixir of life. Being vindictive and remorseful is no way for us, as women, to progress. We should understand that our past happened and instead of being angry about it and being revengeful, we should move forward by using the very reasons we were oppressed for ie our humility, our empathy, that we are a force to be reckoned with at the same time still the leaders we were intended to be.

Growing and becoming a whole and complete woman to me is a continuous journey. Finding that complete balance where we can have the kids, run the house, head off and be a CEO, come home, cook dinner and still be a family. Realizing that as WOMAN, we will have to work harder, we will have to prove ourselves ten times more, we will earn a lesser salary and so many more facets that will separate us from MAN and still getting up everyday and finding the glory and beauty in our lives. Its a daily struggle for me, but I know Im doing something right because it feels right and no action with the intention of aiding that of the greater good and our fellow people, will ever be overlooked by God.

  •  What Do You Count As Your Greatest Achievement?

This by far has to be raising my 7 and 5 year old to be the happy, fulfilled and extremely social beings that they are. I do not believe that there could be any accolade higher than being a Mother. Im sure there are many women that would argue this point, however, baring children is nothing but an honor from God entrusting you with His angels. AND you do it for FREE! The only payment is unconditional love.

I also have to say that maintaining my dignity and my sense of equality to my fellow people is something I pride myself in too. I have always believed that you should treat everyone you meet with the same kindness and respect. I like to use the example that any student can get an ‘A’ once, maintaining that ‘A’ is what makes them phenomenal. The same theory applies to life. When you meet someone for the first time, treat them as you would wish to be treated unless they prove otherwise. You never know that just by being nice to someone on that day, how you could have positively affected their lives.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

 

As I said earlier, being a woman and because of the stigma that comes along with that, especially in Africa, we will have to prove ourselves ten times more and work that much harder to get anywhere. But we, as women, have the ability to move mountains. Working in such a male dominated industry and also an industry where women are portrayed to be of the lesser sex, now is the time for us to shine because more and more of us are spreading our wings and learning to fly.

Having built and run one of the most successful nightclubs in East Africa, one cannot fathom all the controversy, humiliation and sordid nastiness I had to surpass in order to overcome. People refused to take me seriously because 1st, they believed it to be a fickle business and 2nd just because I am a woman, it was assumed that I wasn’t serious about the business aspect of the club. Needless to say all these oppressing misconceptions were overcome, but not without a struggle. This is when I realized that we will always have to go that much further in everything we do, to get to where we want.

There is also the issue of just doing business in general as a woman. At first you are judged simply because of the way you look and then by your ability to succeed because of your gender. This already stunts economic growth as well as personal growth from the get go.

  •  How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

By constantly asking The Most High for continued guidance, crying my eyes out when I got home after a tough day and learning to accept the things I cannot change and asking for the wisdom to change the things I can. Sounds simple yeah? Well its not. To whom much is given, much is expected and when you set for yourself high goals, you have to deal with deep disappointment.

My amazing father once told me that if I chose to live a certain life, I have to be willing and able to get it. Those words sit with me everyday. Positive reinforcement from my girlfriends, realizing that my children need to have the best that I could possibly give them and acknowledging that I would like to grow old gracefully and with peace of mind.

  •  How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Family always comes first. My professional life is infested with people who always trying to use you for some or other reason. Too many sharks in too small a pool. There are also many people that you just wont get along with as you would a brother or sister or cousin or daughter. So knowing that you can have a true and honest relationship with someone with no strings attached and just be, helps tremendously.

  •  Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

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I most certainly do. Many African women are not able to express themselves or are not confident enough to express themselves or are not educated enough to express themselves and I believe expression is extremely important in strengthening our position in society. This also aids as a form of education for women who would like to know more about other African women, like themselves. Many times we think we are not able to achieve simply because we were not well informed. I am a true example of this. I always describe myself as being a late bloomer. Everything I did in my life always started late and I have no problem with this as I believe your time comes when it comes. I was not well informed as to how to go about doing what I would like to do and trial and error is how I made it here. There are always better ways and by sharing our stories we help and drive other women to become and do as they desire.

  •  In your experience, what do you think are some of the prevalent issues women face in everyday life, professionally?

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Being respected as an equal professionally is one of the main issues I have personally experienced. Women have a tougher time proving themselves no matter how educated or experience they are because of the negative stigma that has been attached to us from the past.

Women who choose to be stay at home moms and take care of the household are also discriminated against by other women. This, to me, is the worst form of discrimination because if we are to progress in society we need to support each other as women and stand side by side to fight for our rights. An integral part of being a woman is taking care of the home and family and should be recognized more highly instead of being frowned on.

  •  What Do You Think Needs to be Done to Address These Issues?

I believe that many of our issues start in the home, so to begin we need to start changing our mindsets as moms and dads. Times are changing and so is the world. We have to find the balance to hold onto our values and morals and incorporate and arm our children with the necessary ammunition to take on the world as it is today.

This also applies to the governments and law makers. Women and girls need to get more recognition  and acknowledgement from them and this in turn will assist with us growing in society and being respected and appreciated.

  •  What Would You Tell another Young Woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

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There is MUCH competition in this industry. There are many people not willing to help others and you are most definitely going to get many NO’s before you get a YES. So why continue to pursue this career you ask? Well, because once you do reach a place where you have a voice, you are then able to get people to listen to you, as a woman, of essence.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

A couple of my friends and I get together every now and then and do out part. We don’t like publicizing it or getting the media involved cause its just something that we do out of our own.

I also believe that my radio gig is a huge part of me giving back to my community. Having a voice through media which touches thousands of women and children is just invaluable to me. I am able to send my positive message to them and sometimes even without them knowing or wanting to hear it. *wink*

I also participate in giving school talks for career advice and assistance especially within the entertainment industry. It is vital that our kids, the future of our land, know exactly what they are getting themselves in for.

  •  If you could tell young women one thing, what would it be?

To always remember - ‘If its your destiny, you will never have to sacrifice your dignity’

*TANZANIA* – Lillian Madeje: The Humble Queen

July 22, 2013

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

When I think of Lillian, one word usually comes to mind: Humble! This lady has accomplished so much at such a short span of time, yet she is one of the most down to earth people I know and usually the first to lend a helping hand. Even to get her to do this was hard for her since she is not use to talking about herself so much, however she represents the many qualities that many people strive to have. I am glad to call Lillian both a colleague and friend. May this serve to Inspire to Aspire!

BACKGROUND

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I consider myself  a simple human being who enjoys life and aims to make my time here on earth have a purpose. When I pass on, I would want to have made a difference in someone else’s life as I believe my life is not for me alone, there is always a greater purpose. I am blessed to be the last born in my family though I am always regarded to as the baby, which I should say helps a lot in some situations, but in general I have always been a go getter and usually find myself in situations of leadership.

 Looking back at my life, every move unbeknown to me was part of a greater plan to get me to where I am and I still am on the road to self discovery at this point in my life. I finished my A-Level studies with the intention of heading to take Environmental Science, but that was not in my cards as I did not achieve the grade marks for this. I started looking for alternative Universities that will take me and applied to various universities from Sokoine University Agriculture in Morogoro to St. Xavier University in Canada and every time I received a rejection letter I lost faith in my purpose. Finally I was blessed to get a position in a small university campus in Parkville, Missouri called Park University where I went to pursue a B.A in International Business and Marketing and it has been an adventure since then.

 I am my own worst critic, and always hold myself to a high standard thus when you ask me to talk about achievements, I am left to count only a few and the big one that comes at the top of my head is finishing my University degree and having my family and friends there with me to celebrate this achievement. However you should watch this space for greater achievements in the future. 

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

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The path that I am on was pre destined for me. When I finished my degree I saw myself working in an advertising agency, influencing   consumers to buy products and just being a pure marketer and now I am in the Human capital business.

T The first time I had an interview with my boss, Modesta Lilian Mahiga, it was actually so that she could place me with one of her clients as she owned a Recruitment Agency. After we finished the interview, she tells me that she wants to hire me. I was dumbfounded as she was one of the people I admire and could not understand what she saw in me.

 I started as Team Coordinator, involved with running around and  making sure everything was in order to the current position that I am now holding as the Managing Director for the agency that I actually came in to interview for a placement in their database. Now this transformation did not happen overnight and there were a lot of  sleepless nights and days that I wanted to quit, but my boss, who turned out to be the greatest mentor, helped me see the greater  picture even when I was weary.

  •  Who and what are some of your influences?

God first and foremost, He plays a major influence in what I involve myself with and what I do, but second to that are my parents. My mom probably holds the title for most diversified entrepreneur as she has done every form of business from having a salon, rearing animals, processing and packaging milk, mushroom grower and distributor to now being a fully fledged grapevine farmer and she keeps on amazing me with her strength and passion with all she does. My father is one of the most supportive people you could ever hope for though he will grill you on your decision making process, but at the end of the day he will support you. The friends I keep are a selected group who mentor me and help me grow each and every day. So that sums it up to God, parents and friends.

  •  Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

Given the chance, I would not want to redo anything as I know each  and every hurdle that I went through was preparation for the greater  race to be run.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

My inspiration comes from doing a service to others while my motivation comes from my family and friends who always hold me to the highest regard.

  •  What do you count as your greatest achievement?

I am not one to count and reflect on things I have accomplished and thus this is one thing that I cannot come up with at the top of my head, so for now lets just watch this space.

  •  What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

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Being a woman presents some challenges in many communities especially coming from an African origin, but I have never let this bring me down. But then again on this I would have to pay homage to the amazing women who came before me and fought for our rights to make sure that I get equal rights.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

When approaching issues or even reflecting on something I always try to rationalize based on the skills and strengths that I have and rather not dwell on what I didn’t get through due to my gender.

  •  How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

I am a family person through and through, I am passionate about what I do and at times have to sacrifice family time for work but family comes first.

  •  Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

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 The power of storytelling is powerful and so yes I believe my story should be shared as it may be a beacon of hope to someone else even if I think that there is not much to share.

  •  In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

The 21st Century woman still faces a glass ceiling at the work place and its only a few who can make it, but unfortunately at the expense of sacrificing on family life or for lack of a better word “acting like a man”.  We still have a long way to go, but I am also of the belief that we shouldn’t use this as a crutch, but rather face our work life and give it the best we can and our work will talk for itself.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

We should just be more confident in our pursuit and continue pushing on for the right policies to be adopted at our various work places, but then again powerful women are coming up through various avenues such as Entrepreneurship and you really can not have a glass ceiling on this. I believe we are addressing the issues by proving to the world what we can do. Africa currently has two women presidents, the chairperson for AU is a woman, the driving force behind most of our countries economies are women through their various business ventures, so I see us addressing this issues with the sheer intelligence that we as women are only blessed with.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Everyone has a chosen path, there is no value in copy pasting someone else’s path when you have yours to live. I would tell them to learn from it and see where their path takes them.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

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I am involved with various initiatives and organizations that assist me in reaching out to those in my community;

- Co host for a weekly business youth radio show called The Link

- Chapter Head in Tanzania for a Pan African movement called Africa 2.0

- Board Member and organizing Committee for Global Entrepreneurship Week in Tanzania

- Member of Smart 29er a CPTM movement

- I do various talking engagements at youth forums on how to position themselves for interviews and success

  •  If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

You can do anything you set your mind to just learn to believe in yourself.

*THE GAMBIA* – Jama Jack: The Verbal Queen

July 20, 2013 4 Comments

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

Jama Jack is one of those people who you do a double take when you see her. She has such refined features, beautiful dark skin, and a body that models literally kill themselves for and she carries herself with grace and class and a quiet strength that makes you realize there is more than meets the eye. I got to know Jama when we were together in Ghana for the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa, but didn’t really notice her until I heard her share her story during one of our sessions and I was blown away by how articulate and smart she was.  The more I heard from her the more impressed I became and I knew that her story is a story that must be told. It is my pleasure to introduce to you Miss Jama Jack:

BACKGROUND

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I was born in Banjul, The Gambia on May 4th 1990; the first of two children for my mother and the fifth of seven children for my father. I did my basic and secondary schooling in The Gambia, starting off at Lena’s Nursery, moving through Pipeline Nursery, St Joseph’s Ex-Pupils’ Primary, The Reverend J.C. Faye Memorial High, The Gambia Methodist Academy to the West African International School before winning a scholarship to study in Morocco. There, I spent one year studying French in preparation for admission into the Institute of Journalism (Institut Superieur de l’Information et de la Communication), where I just completed my third year. I hope to graduate in June 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Communication Studies.

I’ve been involved in advocacy and activism since the age of 10 and most of my experience is based on this. Last year, I was selected as one of Africa’s Top 25 Most Outstanding Young Women Leaders by the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa. I also served as Vice-President, then President of the Gambian Students’ Association in Morocco. These are just a few of the things I’ve achieved in my 23 years on Earth…yet.

I have a passion for being a change-maker in my community, country, continent and the world, by extension. This has been a crucial part of my life and I feel empty when I have nothing going on. I’m also a big fan of books… they provide peace and calm away from the crazy episodes in the real world. I also love writing and am working hard at improving my expressions, with the hope of authoring many books in the future.

In a nutshell, I am a young, educated and determined Gambian woman with a lot of potential, willing to discover the world and leave my footsteps everywhere I go, in the service of humanity.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

Practicals at school

I have always been fascinated by everything that has to do with communication, education and increasing the awareness levels of people everywhere. I was a very shy kid and only got over this timidity after joining the Lend A Hand Society, where I was challenged to face large crowds in advocacy campaigns for the various causes we were working on. The radio was one of the platforms we used to spread our messages and I found myself in the studios every Saturday. We were also responsible for organizing activities to mark the International Children’s Day of Broadcasting every year and this got me on television too. I also wrote very often for the two magazines we produced. These experiences laid the foundation for my career choice.

I realized the power that the mass media holds as a tool for disseminating information and influencing public opinion, which could be both positive and negative. I felt that specializing in media studies would give me a better chance of reaching out to more people, as I advocate for the causes that I hold dear to my heart. I also saw it as an avenue to bring to light things that are usually hidden from the public’s knowledge for various reasons, creating an environment with a free flow of information, where everyone is aware of what is going on in the immediate communities as well as the outside world. I concluded that I needed to get professional in the field to understand how it works and equip myself with the requisite tools to ensure great results. I was also motivated by what I saw in the national media. I felt we could do better as a country in that field,and it would take people with a passion for the profession to practice it in the best way possible.

  • Who and what are some of your influences?

I am much rather inspired than influenced. I have learnt to make my own choices with the belief that I am responsible if things do not go as planned. Inspiration comes to me from the most basic of things, like a walk out in the streets. It also comes from people around me, from the things I read, from the things I watch and hear about. I believe the world is a pot-pourri of good and bad, so I try to look for the good and be inspired by it. I believe nothing is ever too small to trigger great ambitions in me.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

Growing up, I have learnt not to dwell on regretting things that have gone wrong in my life. It may be a difficult feat, especially when one has set goals and ambitions and is working hard to achieve them at whatever cost. However, I strongly believe in fate and man’s lack of control over his/her destiny. This has helped me to live life without regrets, choosing instead to learn from my mistakes and rise from my failures and setbacks. If there’s one thing I could have done differently, it would be dedicating more time to the service of humanity and setting up more projects in my youth. I would also have loved to be more enlightened in political issues in my country, continent and world at large to ensure a better participation in issues that affect me and the people around me. However, it’s never too late to learn so I’d rather focus on the present and the future than on things I couldn’t do in the past.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

My biggest inspiration is my mother. She taught me what it means to be a strong, whole woman rising against the stereotypes and patriarchal beliefs of our society and succeeding against all odds. She single-handedly raised and still raises her kids and other people in her care, making sure all needs are provided for. I grew up watching her dedicate her life to serving other people and working hard to improve the living conditions of women in The Gambia, travelling to the most rural areas just to ensure her work is done. Through her, I learnt to give and got interested in the many causes I’m involved in. Her hard work and dedication serves as a reminder to me, that being female does not limit my possibilities and that with focus and determination, I can achieve whatever I want in this world.

I’m also inspired by the many people I’ve had the chance to meet and work with since my childhood. The many lessons, the passion, the resolve and desire to change the world and leave positive marks have all been a source of inspiration for me. With them, I realized just how much I can do and how much change I can create in the world, no matter how small.

Finally, I am motivated by what I see around me. The living conditions, the struggles, the challenges, the stories of people I interact with and observe all serve as eye-openers for me and remind me of the role I have to play in making things better. It also serves as a source of humility for me when I assess people’s problems and realize that mine are probably just a drop in the ocean. That alone is enough motivation for me.

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

Graduating from the 2012 MILEAD Institute in Accra

Looking back at my 23 years on Earth and the challenges I faced growing up, it’s difficult to identify one thing as my greatest achievement. From excelling in school to benefiting from a scholarship for University education; from starting my blog to being recognized as one of The Gambia’s upcoming writers; from the many projects I’ve helped implement to being selected as one of Africa’s Top 25 Emerging Young Women Leaders in 2012, it’s very difficult to choose. Thus, I would say my greatest achievement is yet to come, but for now, I’ll peg it at being a young woman leader striving against all odds to make life better for herself and for others… and succeeding in most of these aspects.

  • What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

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I think I face the same challenges most girls and women face in the African society, which is highly patriarchal. The idea that females are inferior to males has always been a problem, I’ve found myself in situations where the males in my family/community are attended to first. Growing up, I had more chores than my male cousins and was expected to always help out around the house, even though we all went to school together and had the same workload. I have also encountered situations where I was expected to keep silent because I am female and have no say in certain issues. All of these are just a few examples of the struggles faced growing up as a female in the African context.

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

I count myself lucky to have a mother who knew her rights and values and instilled them into her kids and those around her. Thus, I was able to defend myself in most cases, demanding to be treated as an equal and be awarded the same opportunities as the males around me. I believe my education and involvement with child and youth advocacy groups and exposure to the basic human rights instruments also helped me in overcoming these challenges.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Having the support of one’s family might be very crucial to one’s success. However, I don’t think it is quite indispensable to one’s road to achieving dreams and goals. I’m grateful to have always had the support of my (extended) family through the many phases of my growth. I have also come to appreciate the concept of having a family by chance and a family by choice. We meet people who become very important and constant factors in our lives, providing support and always being there. These people become a family to you because the bonds you share are so strong and in each other, you find support systems. So for me, my family by chance and choice are important.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Absolutely! It is sometimes difficult to open up about one’s struggles but I’ve found that sharing is a form of healing and growing from the experiences. I also think it’s crucial to understanding each other as women and will help in charting solutions to the problems we face. It could also serve as motivation for someone. On the other hand, it could also be a learning process for me because I can never tell how much impact it might have on other people who will also share their stories and open my eyes to even better or worse experiences.

  • In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

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I think the biggest problem women face is the discrimination based on their gender and this cuts across the board, going from the social to the professional setting. Women are considered inferior to men and this has greatly hindered our development and advancement for far too long. In the past decade, however, we’ve seen a growth in the promotion of gender equality and equity and an advancement of the feminist movement. One would assume that this would change things greatly. Despite the improvements, we’ve seen ‘feminists’ and gender equality advocates be on the receiving end of insulting and condescending labels, as a result of their commitment to the cause of women.

These words and actions are enough to cripple most, if not all, efforts being made to empower women and ensure our rights are respected and that everyone has equal opportunities.

Sticking to the African context,  traditional beliefs and practices are still placed at a high pedestal. All things traditional are deemed good in this part of the world. As such, certain harmful practices are still in existence, despite the sensitization campaigns aimed towards eradicating them. I’ll take the example of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Much progress has been made in this regard, with many villages committing to drop the knife. However, the act is still practiced in the privacy of the homes and bushes. It goes without saying that this practice leaves physical and psychological effects on the ‘victims’, that heal slowly or never at all. Some lose their lives as a result of excess bleeding and contamination for the crude and unsterilized instruments used. Where the person survives, she is usually faced with various health complications especially during sexual intercourse and childbirth. Early marriage and wife inheritance are also examples of traditional practices that hinder the development of women. Doing away with them and protecting the women is a responsibility that should be assumed by both the States and individuals all over the world.

Another issue that affects women is the continued belief that our place is in the home to care for men, give birth to and raise kids and depend entirely on our husbands for survival. As a result, girls’ education has been a problem, especially in the rural areas. A lot of potential is lost and girls are left with no option but to perpetuate the cycle of uneducated women on Earth. Poverty also has a big role to play in this matter, as it is the excuse used most times by families that decide to keep their daughters and home and send their sons to school.

These are just a few of the problems women face, but I believe if they are tackled, we will be well on our way towards finding solutions to the other problems and challenges.

  • What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

I believe the first step towards addressing these issues is recognizing women as human beings with equal rights and responsibilities as any other person(men). A good number of international charters and conventions have been signed and ratified by states around the world to this effect. However, the responsibility of upholding the principles indicated in these documents is often ignored. As such,certain members of the society, mainly women and children, have their rights buried and their privileges dismissed. Respecting and safeguarding these rights could be the gateway towards ending most of the things that impede the development of the woman at any level.

Education, for me, is the most important tool anyone can use to empower a woman. It is a right for all, but a great number of females still see it as a privilege. Statistics usually show literacy levels varying from men to women, with the latter occupying the lower steps of the ladder. The importance of education can never be emphasized enough. With it, the woman is guaranteed of the knowledge and understanding of basic things and happenings around her. She becomes aware of her rights and those of the people under her care at present or in the future. It opens up a gateway to opportunities in the professional field and she is encouraged to dig deep into her talents and contribute her bit towards socio-economic development. It is without doubt that women are the backbone of most households. The responsibility of child bearing and upbringing is often linked to her. An educated woman would ensure that her children also get educated… the girls inclusive. Here, we see an empowerment chain where each female recognizes the importance of education and strives to provide it for all. With the required education at varying levels, women are now able to contest for positions in the corporate world. This provides a sense of independence and serves as a great tool for empowerment too.

In the same vein, there is limited or very little participation of women in the political field,which is consequently another way through which women’s empowerment is stunted. The decision-making corridors are filled with men, usually exhibiting masochistic characters, to the detriment of the women. Laws and propositions on women’s issues are formulated and adopted by people who know very little about them. Having more women being actively involved in this field would ensure a more realistic and practical approach to finding solutions to the problems their counterparts face. It would also guarantee a level ground for both men and women in the running of state affairs. I

There are many ways to skin a cat, of course,but for me these are the main things that should be addressed in order to address the problems and challenges women face in their daily lives. Respect of basic human rights, access to basic and secondary education at the least, an end to gender discrimination in the corporate world and in other domains, protection from harmful traditional practices etc would bring us one step closer towards achieving the goal.

  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Your life is yours to live, your decisions are yours to make and the consequences are yours to deal with. Take advice, be inspired by others, seek help from others but always remember that whatever happens in the end should be of your own accord. Opposition and resistance are bound to rear their heads as you head on towards realizing your dreams, but staying and fueled with determination and faith will help keep your head above the waters. The path I’ve chosen is not an easy one to walk through, but my passion has kept me going and I’ve found a support system in people who believe so much in me and my potential. So make your decision and work hard for success. Most importantly, chart your own path and make it yours in a bid to inspire others to do the same.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?
Teaching A Public Relations class at Starfish International

Teaching A Public Relations class at Starfish International

I’ve been volunteering with non-profit organisations since the age of 10 and it has become my way of life. I started with the Lend A Hand Society, where I was actively involved in advocating for the cause of children and youth as well as raising awareness on HIV/AIDS and other STIs. I also went through various training’s on Public Speaking etc and, in turn, helped train more young people.

I’m also a member of the Group of Gambians Against Rape and Molestation (GARM) created to combat sexual violence in The Gambia.

Together with friends and colleagues, we started the Tuta Pack Action Group in 2011 in response to the discovery of the indiscriminate sale of alcohol to minors at cheap prices. Through our efforts at sensitization and meeting with the relevant stakeholders, we were able to influence the banning of the product in The Gambia and its producer’s licence got revoked.

I’m also a volunteer with the Nda Mariam Jagne Family Foundation, created to help improve maternal health in The Gambia, as well as promote the idea of scholar athletes.

I was recently appointed as the Outreach Coordinator for Starfish International, a non-profit Community based organisation with a mission to empower Gambian girls by providing them with an advanced education that is focused on service to humanity while at the same time providing international service-learning opportunities for volunteers.’

I’ve held various leadership positions in my affiliations with these and other organisations. I’m also a writer and spoken word performer for Balafong Magazine. Our events help us to voice out our problems using poetry.

My love for writing got me to start a blog (linguerebi.wordpress.com). My blog is a mix of all things I love and am passionate about. My blogs range from commentary on current issues, journals of my work, issues related to the cause of women and children, to an infusion of literary fiction. My readership is growing and so I try to send important messages through my posts, as my own contribution towards creating a positive change in our communities.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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You are everything you think you are; therefore think big, think positive, think success!

*TANZANIA* – Janet Mbene: The Superwoman

June 14, 2013

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

Janet Mbene embodies the aphorism: Never give up! She truly is an African Queen and a woman much respected by her peers and those who strive to be like her. Her children are a testament to the kind of woman she is, as she has raised a phenomenal group of kids who are making waves in this country and beyond. She is now currently the Deputy Minister of finance for the Tanzanian government and also makes the time to speak, advice and mentor young people on their different journeys. It is my honor to call her an African Queen and this is her story:

BACKGROUND

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I am a mother of five beautiful grown children: 3 boys and two girls.  I am a second born of three children.  I have an elder sister and younger brother.  My parents were working class, my father was working in the Tanzania Railways Corporation and my mother was previously a nurse and midwife and later trained and changed to Community Development Officer and Ultimately also joined politics.

My childhood was spent moving in many cities of Tanzania due to my father’s work transfers.  I was born in Morogoro and lived there till I was two years old when we moved to Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mbeya, Iringa and ultimately Dar es Salaam.

I went to Primary School in Iringa and finished off in Dar es Salaam where I joined a Convent Secondary School and attained the ordinary certificate level then went to High School “A” Level at Marian College a Maryknoll Sisters School which is now known as Kilakala Secondary School.

I then got married had three children and went back to School starting with an advanced Diploma in banking, then to University for First Degree in Economics.  Before going back to tertiary education, I had two more children. In 1972, I joined work with the then only Commercial Bank, The National Bank of Commerce.  From Clerk to Credit and Loans Administration Manager in one of the large branches in Dar es Salaam.

After My Postgraduate Studies in Australia where I graduated with a Master’s degree in Economics with specialization in International Trade and Trade Agreements, Regional Integration and financing of Trade as well as Bank Financial management as well as corporate financing. I also took a course in Natural Resources management.

After my graduate studies I joined work with various International NGOs as a Program Specialist in Credit Management, Capacity Building Entrepreneurship, and later also worked in the UN System as Program Specialist and Head of Programs variously.

I’ve also worked in International Regional organizations as Executive Director.  This involved coordinating programs in economic and social justice and monitored government performance in facilitating policy implementation at all levels of government linking this at regional level with other national governments.  Was responsible in creating awareness among citizenry to hold governments responsive to their concerns and also responsible to the commitments made in National & International Commitments.  This was of particular significance in the MDGs, WTO issues and other regional commitments.

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

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I picked this career path because I have always aspired to be in public service and my career path grew from my studies in economics and finance.  Even my Political career was influenced from the fact that I was called to lead since primary school all the way through University, place of work, etc in all this I would represent the student or workers as the case may be.

  • Do you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance? Please explain.

Yes, I would have wished to do a few things differently.  Namely been more patient, listened more, listen to the voice of God more and obeyed Him.  I certainly should have done a PhD. I would have been more forgiving of myself.  I believe the standards I have set for my life have rendered too hard on others and myself.  I would have relaxed more.

  • What and who inspires and motivates you?

My main motivation was my parents who both supported me and encouraged me to do the best that I could telling me that my success depended on me alone and that no person could ever be fully depended upon other than myself.  They told me time and time that education is my only salvation and this made me work very hard and succeed and they were very proud of me.

  • What do you count as your greatest achievement?

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My Greatest Achievement has been taking control of my life after a bad and difficult marriage, raising my children alone, going back to school and educating my children adequately and raising them to be responsible and they have become admirable children.

  • What are some struggles and/or insecurities?

I have faced many struggles because of my gender.  First was in being forced to marry a man I did not love nor want.

Not being taken seriously because of my gender in places of work where all they see is the woman. Receiving less pay for same jobs and responsibilities. Being stereotyped and not being able to take part in things such as going out alone in public places for fear of harassments backbiting and being misunderstood.

  • How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

I have overcome them through hard work through perseverance, through professional and ethics to show the world that I am able to achieve things on merit and not because I am a woman.

Family in my life has been the anchor on which my success was linked for my family encouraged me, loved me, provided for me and comforted me through the good and bad times.  I learnt very early on in life that no matter what, I could depend on my family to come through for me.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Yes, I do believe it is important to share my story with other women because many times we face challenges and feel overwhelmed and think we are alone in it when actually that is not the case.  So a story could help a woman be motivated and be comforted to know that there are others in the same position and who have overcome their situations.

  • In your experience, what do you thank are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

Women still lack access to the basic things in life, like education, finances, opportunities, recognition for their contribution in the household, at work and nationally.  Women are still abused by family, workplace and society at large, verbally, psychologically, sexually and professionally. Not enough is invested in girls and women on the facilities that are of importance to women.  Water facilities, transport facilities, working tools, technology and health care, finance, training and education facilities.

What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

  • What needs to be done is ensure that women issues are treated as a human right. That girls are given the same opportunities in education from Primary School to University.
  • Women in rural areas are given facilities to ease their burden and get them to engage in economic activities more.
  • All laws that discriminate against women are scraped.
  • Society are educated about the rights of girls and women and to make it punishable to deprive girls and women of these rights.
  • Women need to be educated on their own rights because many have grown to accept abuse and deprivation as normal.
  • What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

I would encourage any woman who wants to go the same path that I did but would caution her on the pit falls to avoid.

What do you do to give back to your community?

I do a lot to give back to community, I have an orphanage that I have adopted and I am supporting them.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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I provide free advice to young people and women on various issues including entrepreneurship. I support and contribute to community programs such as education centers, orphanages, health and other areas requiring assistance. I would tell young women to be confident, hard-working and to dream big.

*GHANA* – Maame Afon Yelbert-Obeng: Artiste and Gender Consultant

June 6, 2013

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

It’s hard not to notice Maame as she has a personality and a smile that will leave you feeling loved. Not to mention her voice! The woman can saaang (when it goes beyond just singing)! Maame is one of the Milead Fellowship Mentors and is someone I admire. She is a woman with an incredible love and passion to see people know who they are and know what the are meant to be. I encourage everyone to to check out her material on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/MaameAfon

This is what she has shared with African Queens Project. Inspire to Aspire!

BACKGROUND

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I identify myself as a whole woman and whole leader, which simply means I bring all of who I am to everything I do. I strongly believe that when we show up in our “wholeness” we thrive in our passion and calling and everyone also benefits. I was born and raised in Ghana and moved to US in 1999 to attend University. Staying true to the notion of whole woman, my passion and gifting in music materialized with the release of my debut album Rise in May 2012 with a message using inspirational music from many genres to celebrate Africa and promote social justice. A true next generation leader in the best tradition of the continent, I am mother of three young children and have made a career of giving—working and volunteering with many organizations such as Global Fund for Women, African Women’s Development Fund, Global Women’s Leadership Network , and Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa.  I have woven music into conferences and programs such as the African Feminist Forum, the Bioneers conference, the UN Commission on the Status of Women and last year at the Caribbean Heritage Organization’s Salute to Hollywood and the Arts. My faith is integral to everything I do, including serving as a worship leader in church.  I have an MA in human rights, gender and international development and a BA in French and Spanish, as well as working experience in grant making, philanthropy, social justice, women’s rights and development focused on Sub-Saharan Africa.

  • What inspires and motivates you?

I am inspired by those who came before us and paved the path for us. I am aware of the toil and sacrifices that have provided the shoulders, on which we stand to reclaim, restore and recognize a space for women and girls as well as their contributions to society. In particularly, I am inspired by my mother who defied the odds on many levels as a single mother and in the process left a solid legacy and foundation on which future generations can build.

  •  What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

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While the women in my family are outspoken and push the limit with regards to the designated roles of women, there are still elements of constructed roles for girls/women that pertain. Growing up with all male cousins, I would always be called upon to do house chores while the boys played. And although considered equals, my responsibilities as a girl who would grow to be a woman, wife and mother, meant there were certain “things” I needed to learn,  which meant I could not “hang” with my cousins and follow them as I would have wished. Because of this I even considered myself a “tomboy.”

  • How have you overcome these struggles and/or insecurities?

At a very early age even before I could name it, I was practicing, speaking my truth, speaking truth to power and speaking up when and as often and as needed. Embracing and embodying whole woman has been an uplifting experience as I show up not in compartments or silos but as a whole woman bringing all of me—my faith, hopes, passion, gifts, fears, and triumphs among others. I continue to speak and own my truth, recognizing it is not about having it all but being comfortable showing up with all of who I am.

  • Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

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The only way we have been inspired is through the stories we have read or heard of the visionary and bold leaders/pacesetters, and if we are to pay it forward and build a sustainable platform for future generations, then it becomes even more critical to share our stories–not just the triumphs but also the lessons to inspire hope, and equip and engage more women and girls. In Ghana we have a saying that “Dua kor dzi ahom obu” meaning when one tree holds everything together it eventually breaks down. So it will be if few share their stories—our progress will be halted. “So the more stories, the merrier.”

  • Why did you choose the path you did?

To pay it forward. In order to pour out what has been invested in me. In order to play a part in building a vigorous, vibrant and colorful movement of women and girls who embody whole woman, whole leader, for a whole world.

  •  What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path?

Stand your ground and diligently pursue character not comfort because when all is said and done character will sustain your passion, and vision. Your unique factor will be character.

  • What do you do to give back to your community?

Investing in the leadership of young African women by calling out their potential.

  • If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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Always speak and own your truth and never compromise your beliefs—no matter what.

*TANZANIA* – Modesta L. Mahiga: Change Management Specialist

May 29, 2013

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

When I first heard Modesta Mahiga speak, I had to pinch myself. It was like she knew what I dreamt of when I thought of my country, my people, and my continent. I knew I had to get to know this woman who spoke of, “Developed people Develop Nations!” It has been 3 years from that day when I first heard Mode (her nickname) speak and I have had the pleasure of working with and for her. She has mentored me, spoken into my life, and has been an example not just for me, but for many women (and lets face it, quite a lot of men) who look up to her. African Queens Project got a hold of her, and was able to see what makes her tick! 

BACKGROUND

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I have a legal background, my law degree (LLB) focus was on human rights with leaning on gender rights, family law, the rights of a child and labour law. I am an Advocate of the High Court and Subordinate Courts Thereto in Tanzania.

From as early as secondary school, voluntary and paid work experience has leaned towards the same areas from, representing student rights and community involvement as student form representative and eventually Student President at Waterford Kamhlaba (UWCSA) – a role that cost me my grades (due to workload) and almost got me expelled (for being too strong an advocate of student rights), teaching English and Mathematics to matriculating orphans living at the SOS Children’s Village as well as English and Computers to Deaf Adults (as I had taken a course in Sign Language) and taking Children Living with Disabilities from a local children’s shelter on Excursions (Mbabane, Swaziland).

 After high school I interned at the Tax and Legal Department at PriceWaterHouseCoopers for six months in Dar es Salaam before setting out to university where I had at any one time 3 part-time jobs during the term and a full time job when on university breaks. The most memorable for me was my role supporting a Social Services team working with Refugee Mothers and Children in the most impoverished area of Birmingham, England.

 On return from my studies I worked as a Human Resource Management Trainee and within a year promoted to Recruitment and Labour Relations Manager. I received numerous recognition awards in this role. I resigned for further studies in Germany where I also worked as a Technical Business English Tutor for multinationals during my studies in Trier, Germany.

 Since returning from Germany in 2007, I have had a senior management role at Professional Approach Group where some of my more notable achievements have been made.

I am married to a most supportive husband, Mhando Philemon Mbughuni and we are expecting our first child, Jedidiah Ariel Mbughuni. 

 

  • Why did you pick the career path that you did?

As a lawyer focused on representing women and children, I didn’t see the effectiveness nor sustainability of seeking legal redress in a system that remains largely prejudiced against these interest groups. If women and children were being marginalized because they were deemed to not have a position and voice worth respecting, especially in matters governing economic independence and basic rights, then I wanted to build their capacity outside the legal system so that they would.

 In this pursuit I realized that it is both men and women, boys and girls who need to be equipped and empowered to value their worth, apply their skill and grow in socio-economic independence so that through action and evidence, society can see that no progress can be made without the inclusion, that there is a co-dependence between all interest groups.

  • AQP: Who and what are some of your influences?

 I am grounded by my faith in Jesus Christ and the calling He has placed on my life to prepare Tanzanians to drive both the Nation’s assent to an economic superpower and through Tanzania, the Continent’s renaissance and ownership as a driver of global transformation and prosperity.

 Ordinary people who have done extraordinary things whether the people be real or fictitious (in books and films) have always warmed my heart and stirred my passion to want to be that person that intervenes rather than with furrowed brow exclaims “somebody needs to do something about this situation.” I think had the people who influence and inspire me not been ordinary, I would have found reason to quit when pressed against the wall, seeing them as superhuman and me as a mere struggling mortal.

 Abraham, Noah, Joseph, Moses’ Mother, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Nehemiah, Job, King David and King Solomon as youth, Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ parents, Jesus, Apostle Peter and many others that dropped everything when Jesus said “Follow me” and they knew not to where He would lead.

 I have come to see that even the men and women we hail in contemporary times as “great” (there are too many for me to list here) are but spirited people who often had little to start with but the conviction “there is a calling on my life, someone has to do something about the status quo and I am that someone. Whether I live to see the promise or die in the pursuit of it, whether I stand on my own or am supported by kindred spirits, whether it cost all that I am, I will not compromise, there will be a transformation, we shall not be defeated, not on my watch.” I have read about and watched documentaries of many such “heros” and had the privilege of meeting many more in my travels.

 Closer to home, Julius Kambarage Nyerere and the less celebrated men and women that stood with him, such as my father, Augustine Phillip Mahiga, are made from this fibre. Their counterparts as founding fathers in the region too. My mother, Janet Zebedayo Mbene continues to stand as a testimony of what God’s favour, continuous learning and participation and doggone determination can do not just for one person and their generation but through them for all time. My mentor Obafemi Banigbe continues to teach me the same thing, always urging me “to speak those things that are not as if they are.” My mother in law, Anne-Clauder Mbughuni is an example of what principled, uncompromising yet humble and quiet strength can yield both in the home and the boardroom. Happiness Mchaki, my friend and partner of many moons also carries this quality, something of greater value than pure gold. Jane Mutua is another woman of virtue whose faith, faithfulness and generosity humbles me. I am encouraged to keep things in perspective as I daily watch and listen to the wisdom and resilience of my husband, friend and mentor, Mhando Philemon Mbughuni. My colleague, Lillian Secelela Madeje’s work ethic and people skills teach me how to lead through relationship and influence, even when not necessarily wearing the “leadership” title. And my sister, Eunice Chiume, having always been in positions of influence continues to shine the light on the organization she works for, never seeking any for herself, my brother Andrew Mahiga is the same, ever humble, helpful and honourable regardless of other people’s status or stature. I will never forget Ms Changu Mannathoko who from her pocket generously paid for the tuition of two children who were but friends of her son and in asking to pay her back when I was able to stand financial independent she said, “just pay forward to someone else as I did for you.” My mentor Ali Mufuruki, for teaching me pragmatic lessons about life and business, including upholding the highest standards of workmanship and business ethics, never asking or receiving any favours, spending within or below my means or suffering fully accountable, for the consequences of not doing so and, building a business first for the name and influence to take root and grow. There are many, many others who may have but spoken a word or given me an encouraging glance that has changed my life forever.

 I remain focused and encouraged by being able to see the challenges and opportunities the status quo in Tanzania and Africa’s development affords. Seeing where we are in mindset, leadership, policy, systems, capacity and competitiveness (in product, professionalism and ethics) shows me how much farther we have to go which energizes me to press forward towards the goal.

 With my purpose and vision clear, I strive to live daily as a mentor leader that grooms and elevates future leaders into strategic positions governing Tanzania and Africa’s interests and influence. 

  • AQPDo you wish you could have done things differently if given the chance?  

Oh yes. Hindsight always affords us 20-20 vision with plenty of opportunities to grow. I could list page after page of “if onlys” and “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” and in times of reflection I do; not to regret and “wish” I could undo the past but rather to extract the lesson and wisdom for the future. For instance, I would have started saving in my teens, I would have not confronted school administration as I did as Student President, I would have handled the client that made sexual passes at me or asked for a bribe a little more diplomatically, I would have trusted some employees less or from the onset, would have focused just as much on income generation as I did on fulfilling a social cause, etcetera. There are many things I would have done differently, but given the resources at my disposal, at that time (and probably impatience to take action), I am grateful that God continued to keep me on course. Tongue in cheek, had I done all things perfectly from the start, I would today, have no lessons from which to learn and grow, no?

 

  • AQP: What do you count as your greatest achievement?

Modesta Mahiga greeting Tanzanian President Kikwete

Modesta Mahiga greeting Tanzanian President Kikwete

 There are many, at times small, incremental ones that lead to significant impact. One being, always sticking it out with a course of action where no one else saw a light at the end of the tunnel or even when the few that did fell away. For instance, my message about Tanzania’s future was either misunderstood or not understood at all, but I am now called on the world over as a resource person to contribute towards casting a mindset change and capacity development led vision and strategy for Tanzania and Africa. I continue to mentor, coach and elevate leaders who have already started shaping our world into the vision God has put into my and their hearts.

 

  • AQP: What are some struggles you faced in your life that came about because of your gender?

 I have never had to struggle in life because of my gender, because very early in life my mother modeled out for me the thoughts, actions, speech and engagement of a “person”, not a “woman”. Only later in life did I hear her emphasize that we had equal rights with men and must hold ourselves as such, something she didn’t have to voice, because I had already believed and lived that truth from infancy. As I see it, being a woman has neither catapulted nor impeded my progress in life and we all know that “as a [wo]man thinks so is [s]he.” Regardless of what happens around me, gender discrimination does not slow me down because it does not register let alone have power, in my mind. I owe all that to my mother and the women that surrounded me as I was growing up. I am however not blind to women who do struggle with gender discrimination and therefore spend a lot of my time speaking to audiences of and mentoring girls and women so that they too can see and be all that God has created them to be and in time, break the chains shackling the men and women, including themselves, concerning gender equality.

  • AQP: How important is family especially in light of your career and professional life?

Modesta Mahiga (right) with brother Andrew Mahiga (left) and Host Gloria Mangi (center) on talk show, "Heart 2 Heart"

Modesta Mahiga (right) with brother Andrew Mahiga (left) and Host Gloria Mangi (center) on talk show, “Heart 2 Heart”

 Of paramount importance. As an advocate for a specific ideal in society and nation, I would go against everything I believe and work towards to not put my family (immediate and extended), being the smallest unit yet most crucial building block for any society values and culture, at its rightful place at the top of my priority list.

  • AQP: Do you believe it is important to share your story with other women?

Modesta speaking at TWAA International Women's Day

Modesta speaking at TWAA International Women’s Day

 It is vital that I do. People, men and women, boys and girls, need to see women “do” not just hear talk about what women “can”. When people see ordinary people doing something about a challenging situation, it empowers them to see themselves as people who can also intervene to transform their world, no matter how small their sphere of influence, knowing everyone’s effort “adds up” to address the whole.

Sharing one’s story also allows others to make mistakes, to fall and get back up without feeling that they are a failure or their pursuit too heroic and unattainable. It is important for me to share my story because then people will understand that ‘the law of the farm’ means that you will sow today and have to go through many a stages before you reap and the harvest may not always be bountiful, but they must get up, dust themselves and keep at it. Telling the story of my journey relieves others, especially women, from seeing me as a hero or role model, without the detail to see how I got to where I am and remain on track to where I’m going. When people see you as having arrived with no clue about the sacrifices and setbacks you have had to endure to stay on course, they can easily give up on their journey to what they would deem insurmountable. But when they see you as an ordinary person who only began with what you had at hand and overcame all kinds of obstacles to stand where you are, impassioned to continue to where you’re going, they too feel energised and more equipped to start and keep moving towards their goal.

Everyone needs to tell their story because everyone has someone looking up to them and that person needs to know the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of your journey, not so much so that they can emulate yours but more so, so that they can craft out their own after principles such as yours and thereby reach higher and achieve greater because they stood on the shoulders of who they consider to be a life-sized person achieving gigantic feats.

  • AQP: In your experience, what do you think are some prevalent issues women face in everyday life? Professionally?

-  Not knowing their identity, value and purpose as people. Seeing their worth through the mirror cast by the thoughts and actions of women around them telling them how far a woman can go (and no farther).
- Not having other women mentor and support them.
- Having ‘thin skin’ at school and in the world of work. Giving up too easily when the going gets tough.
- Feeing unqualified without the confidence to pursue a desired outcome, position.
- Unwillingness to confront and fight institutionalized discrimination.
- Feeling guilty for pursuing both home and professional roles.
- Being unable to delegate so that they can pursue domestic and professional endeavors.
- Choosing to give up one role for the other, usually a professional leadership role for family.
- The responsibilities that come with being wives and mothers.
- Gender, cultural stereotypes, discrimination and assault.

  • AQP: What do you think needs to be done to address these issues?

 More women “doing” what for a long time we have said they “can”, more women stories and recognition for achievements being shared and more women mentoring and coaching into strategic leadership. 

  • AQP: What would you tell another young woman who wants to go down the same path that you have chosen?

Please count the cost then join the movement today! There is not a moment to waste.

  • AQP: What do you do to give back to your community?

Really G? (:-P)

Okay, here goes (just what’s been accomplished, not what’s in the process):

1. Influencing Through the Media.

a. Maanisha! Radio Programs:

Temino (on Clouds FM) and The Link (on Choice FM) radio shows.

Temino focuses on youth personal development for national transformation by focusing on the mindset required to drive personal and community development.

The Link is one of our interventions to equip Tanzanian youth who aspire for decision making positions both whether they choose to start their own businesses or climb the corporate ladder into management positions of established ones.

2. Public Talks

a. Women Empowerment

- On Women Entrepreneurship: Women in Africa: Time to Invest (Kenya)

- Mothers & Daughters

- EcoBank Women 

- Sumatra Union Women

- National Bank of Commerce Women 

- Role modeling, mentoring and coaching motivational talks.

b. Youth Development

Church Ministries & Universities

c. On Capacity Building for Business Competitiveness

- Africa Day – London Business School (England)

- Mavuno Church Business Outreach (Malawi)

- Association of Change Management Professionals Africa 2012 Conference: Transforming Tanzania One Mind at a Time (South Africa)

- Finnish Goverment and Business Delegation (Thursday this week)

-  Website (www.modestalilianmahiga.com), Twitter (@ModestaLMahiga) and Facebook Fan Page (/ModestaLilianMahiga)

3. Board Membership

a. Foundation for Civil Society (Board Member)

b. Tanzania Gatsby Trust (Board Trustee)

c. Tanzania Professionals Network (Executive Committee Member)

4. Mentoring and Coaching Youth and Women Professionals.

 

  • AQP: If you could tell young women 1 thing, what would it be?

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You are here for a God-given purpose and were born with everything you need to accomplish it. Find out what it is and pursue it with single focus and determination. Know that we were created to live in community and when you prayerfully ask, God will bring you the people and resource to fulfill His mandate. The journey will test you to see how badly you are set on your vision but be strong and courageous, you were born for such a time as this and I am here to support you as best I can with the resource at my disposal.

*CAMEROON* – Foglabenchi “Lily” Haritu: The Traveling Nurse

May 23, 2013

A Word From “African Queens Project” Founder:

I met this phenomenal woman when I was in Ghana representing Tanzania as one of the MILEAD Fellows.  There were about 28 women from different African countries and she didn’t necessarily stand out to me at first. In fact, I thought that she was a bit cold as she was really quiet and had this air of sophistication around her. But during our month stay in Ghana, I was literally blown away by this woman as I realized that there was more than meets the eye. As she shared her story with us and I learned of her past and the leaps and bounds she was doing in her home country (Cameroon) I was humbled at the depths of bravery she possessed as she shared how she would travel over rough terrains to patients, sometimes on her own when their was no transportation.  It is my honor to place her among the “African Queens” on this site who have given every part of themselves to advance their causes. Here is her story. 

 

lilyfavor

Background:

Lily is a trainer, facilitator, and speaker at various workshops and conferences locally and internationally. In September 2011 she represented Cameroon in Addis Ababa as country delegate at the 1st Global Summit for Women’s Cancers in Africa, during which she presented lessons learned from cervical cancer prevention initiatives in Cameroon. She is a board member of the CBCHS’ Maternal and Child Health Management Committee and secretary of the Women’s Health Program Strategic and Management Committees. She is also a 2011 Sexuality Leadership and Development Fellow from the Africa Regional Sexuality Resource Centre-Lagos, Nigeria. She has also received Advanced Level training in counseling and evangelism from the Campus Crusade for Christ Ministry and this enables her to provide holistic faith based health services to the women and girls she serves on a daily basis.

She holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree with honours from the University of Buea, Cameroon and Global Health Certificates in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health from the Global Health e-Learning Centre Coordinated by USAID and Johns Hopkins University, USA. She is the recipient of the prestigious British government 2012 Chevening Scholarship and is currently enrolled for a Masters in International Public Health (Sexual and Reproductive Health) at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. She firmly believes that Women’s Health and Safety plays a key role in human development and overall women’s empowerment and therefore hopes to ensure that all women in her community gain access to high level sexual and reproductive health services. During her down time out of health care and church settings.

Her Work:

Foglabenchi Lily Haritu is the Supervisor of the Women’s Health Program (WHP) for the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS), which runs a system of 5 hospitals, 24 integrated health centers and 50 primary health centers, based in six of the ten regions of Cameroon. She is involved in the management of women’s reproductive health services for the entire organization. Prior to this, she served as the Women’s Health Program Coordinator for Banso Baptist Hospital. As a Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Nurse-Activist in the above positions since 2009, she has been involved in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls at fixed and mobile Women’s Health clinics in urban and rural settlements across the country. These services have included but not limited to: Family Planning, Breast and Cervical cancer screening, Syndromic diagnosis and management of Reproductive Tract Infections, HIV Counseling and Testing, Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Comprehensive Abortion Care etc; stretching to remote areas as far as the Equatorial rainforest of Central Africa and the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Abongshie. Her dynamic and innovative efforts have increased women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services in rural Cameroon. This also firmly brought the CBCHS’ Women’s Health Program under the limelight when CORDAID) and their Partners recognized it in 2010 as the best Faith-Based Organization with an outstanding commitment and leadership towards the provision of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services that meet the needs of Women and girls living with HIV and AIDS in the Global South.  Besides her duties in the CBCHS, she coordinates the CBCHS-ProFam (Pro-FamilyPlanning) project under the Cameroon Association for Social Marketing with the overall aim of reducing Maternal Morbidity and Mortality in Cameroon.

Fun Facts: 

Lily enjoys reading, writing, taking photographs between sunrise and sunset, travelling, visiting her mum in the village, swimming, and surfing the net.

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