Mamie Gbessay is a mother of three children who has lived in Makka for almost all her life and supports her family through farming. Before her interaction with OneVillage Partners, she spent all her time on the farm and did not seek opportunities to be involved in community development. When OneVillage Partners engaged Makka for the Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) program, Mamie was encouraged by her husband to attend the informational meeting. In the initial meeting, Mamie stood far apart from the group as she felt nervous. Mamie’s fear of public gatherings is a predominant one for rural women in Sierra Leone. Like other women, Mamie had viewed public gatherings to be the affairs of men where women were not encouraged to attend and were excluded in decision making. Mamie’s key fears included speaking in public as well as attending meetings, family gatherings, and women’s sessions. These fears were always on Mamie’s mind; she said, “I didn’t ever want to be seen in public, not even to talk.”
When Mamie joined the NOW program, the coordinator asked participants to discuss barriers to accomplishing their goals and dreams. Mamie discovered that she needed to increase her public appearances to meet the business goal she had chosen. She also identified that she needed to interact with her husband to share her business goal and with community members to get customers for her business. Mamie started sharing her NOW workbook lessons, which discussed planning for the unexpected, with her husband and attending regular community meetings related to community welfare. At first, Mamie felt shy to talk in meetings but she kept pressing forward, challenging herself to interact in the meetings.
With to her contributions towards the community school project, the community leaders choose her as a School Monitor – a member of a group that ensures school building materials are used appropriately. As the monitoring process went on, Mamie found it very difficult as the only woman in the group because the men were always demonstrating their domineering power. However, she never left the monitoring group and she always showed respect for everyone. Because of this, the group asked her to take the lead in the monitoring process. Mamie’s involvement in school monitoring led to an increase in her confidence level, use of her voice, and general respect. These new qualities helped her achieve her business goal. “I now have enough sales because I have been able to interact very well with people,” Mamie stated. She now sells bread and fried fish, and she even has a kiosk where she does petty trading. Her public speaking improvement attracted many customers for her business, and she jokes and has fun with a diverse set of people during her daily selling activities.
Mamie is using the public speaking skills she grew during the NOW program to motivate other community women to use their voice and contribute to community meetings.
Mamie’s leadership has been demonstrated positively to other women in her community. She is now admired as a confident public speaker. She serves as a mentor to her fellow women in the community to be bold and confident in using their voice and capitalize on the ideas they have to further develop personally and within their community.
Author: Bernadette Mustapha, Nurturing Opportunities for Women Coordinator