Bringing Girls’ Realities to Life
When Mary isn’t in the studio playing Lucy, she is a Programme Coordinator, supporting girls, mentors and partners around Sierra Leone through Purposeful’s Girls’ Circle Collective work. Meanwhile, Isha is a Programme Manager, supporting global and local grantmaking to girl and young women led organisations through our With and For Girls’ Fund. In dialogue with Emma Mulhern, Senior Learning and Insights Manager, they give insight into their experience of these characters and this work.
Mary, you play Lucy and Isha, you play Mariatu. Can you tell us a little bit about your characters?
Mary — Lucy is a mentor and a big sister, she is a wonderful character. She is the big sister that most teenage girls do not have in their families or communities. We know that when you get to adolescence, you are eager to have someone to talk with and someone who will be there, even when you make a mistake — well, that is Lucy. More than giving girls advice, she also advocates for them. She is a friend, a sister, a mentor.
Isha — Mariatu is like every girl in every village — strong, bold and ready to do whatever she needs to do to fend for family. However, in the midst of needing to support her family, she didn’t have all the information or support that she, as an adolescent girl needed — she didn’t know about her body, she didn’t have information about family planning and she becomes pregnant. Thankfully, when Lucy and Titi come to her community, she finds the solidarity she needs. She now has people she can run to, laugh and play with — friends who won’t judge her. She has been through so much but she is ready to be a mother to her daughter and to be there in ways that her own parents could not support her.
Do you see yourself in either character?
Isha —Yes, Mariatu is every girl. The information I needed as a girl was not easily available. When I first had my period, my mother just said if a man touches me now, I’ll get pregnant — that was it, no more detail or information. With my friends, we found books and read the facts about our bodies. I was lucky to find a group of friends. Similarly, Mariatu’s own mother does not know how to talk about sex and bodies — she is shy and that is how she is socialised.
Mary — I resonate with Lucy a whole lot — I am that sister and I am that mentor. Growing up though, I wasn’t. My own story is that I got pregnant while I was a teenager. Being pregnant at that age, you’re so worried, you don’t even know what is going on with your body. I did not have a Lucy, I did not have a mentor to support me but I pushed through. Using gifts I received for the birth of my daughter, I enrolled in college. I didn’t go to for me, I went for my daughter — for her future. People thought because I had children that I was finished but I was determined that would not happen. Today, I am a mentor in my family and community — Aunties say, can’t you see what Mary did? Having been through this oppression and been taken advantage of in your life, you realise that girls need mentors in their lives.
What characteristic do you most admire about your character?
Isha — I love Mariatu’s resilience, strength and zeal to push through. She doesn’t allow what happened to knock her down. Her situation is exactly why girls get pushed off track — you’re pregnant and get driven out of home, with no way to survive, no income. But Mariatu didn’t listen to what her father or other people said about her. She has hope for the future. She seizes opportunities to start businesses and make money. She does not want a generational cycle of poverty to trap her daughter. I also love that she is not ashamed of her pregnancy — she still shows up in the market and she goes to the clinic. Shame is what destroys girls.
Mary — I admire everything that is Lucy. She is selfless and she gives up everything to ensure her girls - her sisters — are ok. I also love that she is eager to learn. She goes through the information she recieves on her phone. If she needs to know more or has questions, she asks people, like Nurse Zainab or Ma Foday. Right now, she is learning to be a bike mechanic. She is fierce, she is not afraid of the system that is against girls. She is ready to take a stand for all girls.
Isha — Lucy also sees potential in the girls and people around her. She makes sure they can pursue their dreams — like Yaema did not believe she could ride a bike but Lucy encouraged her.
What has been your biggest learning moment doing this work?
Isha — I learned that every girl goes through challenges in her life. I reflect on what would have happened if I didn’t find my group of friends. I also learned that we are reaching more listeners than just girls. Recently I had a Karo Kura logo on my bag and a bike rider said that he knew Karo Kura — I was like wow, people in Freetown are busy but this guy is listening. He talked about all the characters (Sama is his favourite!) and about how the drama is talking in positive ways about girls’ lives, in a different way to how we see them in the community. The messages are getting out there.
Mary — The drama really resonates with my work with Girls’ Circles Collectives — we see many Lucys and Mariatus in the communities we visit. I’ve learned that the girls we meet love Mariatu’s story because they have also been through many of the challenges she faces and they love her resilience and focus. In the same way, we see the girls in the drama schooling the patriarchy on what is right and not right — this is also happening in the communities I visit - girls are changing what communities think about them.
Isha — Also, that you can feel what girls are actually going through. You actually cry and sometimes, it can be a full day of recording and it can be a tiring and emotional process. People can’t see our faces so you have to portray it through your voice.
What change are you seeing, hearing and feeling?
Isha — This drama is reshaping the lives of girls and the way communities view girls — there is a new future for girls. The information that I wanted at that age is no longer hidden. Sometimes, I hear about people listening to the drama who I never expected — like old friends who contact me to ask me if it’s my voice they can hear! I spoke to a mother in Moyamba who has a disability and Sia is her favourite character. She shared that her friends listen to it with her and that they even sing the songs. I know that particular community and people rely on the radio for information and entertainment. If they find it interesting, they will listen and the message is going out to them. It is creating impact.
Mary — It is great to see how girls are imagining new possibilities for themselves. The business aspect of the drama is creating vast change. We went to a faraway community in Falaba and met a mentor, and her girls were doing business because they followed the story. They learned about making a budget and managing their money — they see that Lucy and Mariatu are supporting themselves and they think they can do this as well. They are farming, and you hear them say they used to rely on men and now provide for themselves — it is so wonderful to see this. We also get to see husbands of girls and mentors change how they see their partner.
What else makes this work special for you?
Mary — I love that the drama does not just involve us acting, it is also the music! When we recorded the Chance song, it was so wonderful. The drama gives me a platform to make music and I love it! To give my voice to the wonderful songs that Jojo (Josephine Kamara) writes, and knowing that the girls love the songs and chants.
Isha — I love that the cast are drawn from the Purposeful team. We know the message we want to send out. It would have been different if it were only actors in the studio. We’re in the communities, we feel this work and have the vision. We have the passion to drive the change we want to see. This is the revolution we want to create and we give it our everything.
Finally, what are your hopes and dreams for your characters as we move forward?
Isha — Mariatu has been through so much and she now has a fistula. I want to see her evolve and come out of these challenges. We are painting a true picture and I hope to see her become the person she wants to be and create a better life for her and the child. I am hoping to see more light for her.
Mary — I hope to see Lucy further her studies because that will serve as an inspiration to the girls looking up to her.
To find out more about Karo Kura and Purposeful’s girl-centred media, watch out for our latest publication coming later in February: Girl-Centred Media as a Tool for Transformation