A journey of consciousness raising, resistance and solidarity.
How it started…
Young women mentors are the backbone of the work we do in Sierra Leone (read their manifesto here). They support girls and young women in building collective power, solidarity and sisterhood through their girl-only spaces around the country. Over the years and across our programmes, we have developed a network of around 700 mentors (read more about Girls’ Circles here). We are constantly inspired by their resistance, eagerness, commitment, courage and leadership in their communities.
From taking bold action to collectivising, we see how they spark and cataylse change in their lives and in the lives of the girls they support. Every day they are challenging the systems of oppression and injustices they, and other girls and young women, face in their communities.At the same time, mentors are calling on us to help build their facilitation skills, connect them with other mentors and access spaces of feminist knowledge building. Based on this call — and our commitment to building a base of politicised young women across the country as part of our overarching strategy to build girls power — this year we are launching the Feminist Mentors’ Academy. Through this initiative we will accompany a group of Mentors on a personal journey of discovery, solidarity and joy, grounded in feminist education, somatic approaches and movement-building theory. This journey, co-created with Mentors, will take place over twelve months, where we will provide physical and virtual spaces for Mentors to come together to learn, to question, to share, to laugh, to connect and to dance.
Through this work, we envision a strengthened movement of Mentors who are building their individual and collective power and leadership; and through this are inspiring girls, other mentors and communities to take action.
First time together, certainly not the last!
Our first in-person convening, in March 2022, brought fifty mentors from our Girls’ Circles Collectives and With and For Girls programmes. This marked the start of this group’s journey through the Mentors’ Academy. With the theme of my relationship with myself, the nature of power, freedom and love, mentors and team members from Purposeful reflected, discussed and challenged each other over the course of a week. We danced, sang, laughed, cried, and we shared our lived experiences.
“The solidarity and fun among us during the sharing of personal stories was my favourite part of the mentors academy, I learned about the ways other mentors are engaging their mentees, and the friendship among purposeful staff’’ Madusu (24yrs), Falaba
“What I liked was the dance and yoga sessions. It was the first time for me to participate in such a session wherein we dance, check our heart rate or observe our bodies. Memunatu (20yrs), Western Area Rural
What did we do at the first convening?
The highlight of the first convening was the practice of hatha yoga at the beginning and embodying movement and dance at the end of each day. This set the tone and pace for the conversation throughout our time together. Each day started with a question to deepen reflection and thinking around the theme of my relationship with myself, the nature of power, freedom and love.
On day one, we had conversations around understanding who I am and how I see, feel and get to know myself. We utilised interactive tools and facilitation approaches to guide mentors through this conversation, using concepts such as the power within, river of life, and visible and hidden identities, as well as sessions on assertiveness and confidence. We reflected on power, what it means to understand and recognise your power, the importance of understanding our identities, understanding our strengths and weaknesses and being aware of how our stories are different yet similar in so many ways. Through this, mentors were able to connect and have meaningful dialogue, share their stories, and what it means to understand your identity in a safe space hence they celebrated differences and found similarities in their stories, power and known and heard.
Day two focused on recognising challenges and how do I deal with my challenges as an individual. Throughout the day, we introduced concepts like resilience and coping mechanisms, providing space for mentors to share and reflect on how they feel about their stories.
Day three focused on sessions on self-expression. From time in memorial girls have been silenced in their homes, communities to speak up. As it is a taboo in most cultures apparently women should only listen and ‘obey’. Sessions explored and offered ways for mentors to lean into their voices, to speak assertively and confidently on issues affecting their lives. We debated, we sang, we wrote and recited poetry.
We closed our time together by looking to and planning for the future. Mentors shared how they want the rest of their journey through the space to look and feel. They shared the skills and knowledge they want to contribute. A group of mentors who formed a singing group during their time together shared a song they wrote about the Feminist Mentors’ Academy — a clarion call for this time and space.
What did we learn from this first convening?
Whenever we are with girls and young women, we learn so much from them and about how we truly do this work with and for girls. A few things they taught us or reminded us of during this time include:
- Young women mentors are carrying a great deal of trauma but welcomed a space to share with each other. In a number of sessions, mentors voiced their lived experiences, openly crying and providing each other with support and empathy. When offered time out, a break or support from the Purposeful team, they said no, they wanted to sit in this moment with other mentors around them.
- Mentors have an appetite to contribute or lead more in future convenings. While we co-created the direction of the convening with mentors, it was clear that they want to deliver and lead more sessions in the future. Their ideas for what they can offer the group include organising sports and games, drama, sharing skills (such as singing, farming and soap making), organising social activities, creative writing and artwork. Next time, we will make more space for this and ensure mentors have the support and guidance they need to lead in this space.
- Mentors’ lives have radically changed since they have become mentors in their communities, some share stories of how they’ve set up businesses, returned to education, become trusted and respected decision makers and are doing other innovative things in their communities, such as setting up a pre-school in their girls-only space. While being a mentor has been a springboard for this change, they express the need for financial support to continue this transformation. This money is needed to take exams, undertake skills or vocational training and/or strengthen or expand businesses.
This first convening focused on mentors’ power within and understanding who they are, the next steps of the journey will expand to strengthening mentors’ understanding and knowledge around collective power with others and their power to transform their communities. We will come together virtually (via WhatsApp) and again in-person. We will facilitate their increased leadership of the direction of the Feminist Mentors’ Academy and support how they want their journey to unfold, such as through exchange visits with each other and personal development grants. Throughout this process, we will document, reflect, learn and share.
The world we imagine for girls to claim their power and use their voices to transform the world is possible and it’s here.
“If mentors are supported, the world will be free for girls and other mentors’’ Kadija (23yrs), Bonthe
Hear more from the mentors!
‘’My favourite thing during the Mentors Academy convening was the power within session, it helps me to realise who I am and how important I am, at first felt like without [other] people, I cannot do anything but the session helped me to realise that I have the power to be whoever I want and to be and pursue my dreams’’ Fatmata (23yrs), Bombali
“The creative writing session was one of my favourite sessions. It helped me to acquire more knowledge to write about myself [even though] it has been long since I dropped out of the formal school system.’’- Isnatu (22 yrs), Bonthe
“I am able to explore my talent, to create a song that is a theme song for the Academy, we came together with other mentors to sing and that brought me so much Joy.’’ Mariama (21yrs), Karene
“I love the Who Am I session, this inspires me to know that I am an important as an individual’’- Bridget (22yrs), Moyamba
‘’The academy has given me peace and joy’’Augusta (23yrs), Kenema
What did you learn about other mentors around Sierra Leone?
“I learned that other mentors are powerful and we have different skills and talents. For example, some of the mentors can sing, others can dance well and some are very bold and confident’’.
Amie (22yrs), Falaba
“I learned that mentors across the country suffer the same injustices and social stigma but they have the courage and strength to fight things that comes their way’’-Mariama (21yrs), Karene
“I learn that other mentors are strong and powerful women’’ Isnatu (22yrs), Bonthe
Co-written by Umu Jalloh, Programme Manager and Emma Mulhern, Senior Learning and Insights Manager
Photos by Nannette Kargbo, Girls Behind the Lens
This work is resourced by a number of different funders, including Irish Aid; however, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect funders’ official views or policies.