By Fatmata Kabia and Mariama Kabia, Co-founders of Memunatu Magazine Inc.
It was late afternoon when I arrived at my usual coffee shop. Tea in one hand, laptop in the other, I quickly settled into my seat. I couldn’t wait to meet with Mariama to discuss Memunatu, a classroom magazine we created to empower teenage girls in West Africa. The first item on our agenda: review the new reader submissions to the editorial staff.
With a deep breath, I pulled open my laptop and clicked on the editorial file. Quotes filled the screen – words from girls thousands of miles away in West Africa, from different backgrounds, united by one thing: Memunatu.
One quote that jumped off the page was from a 14-year-old girl named Haja:
“I am involved in this project because it is all about girls sharing ideas and skills. It gives us power and knowledge to achieve what we want…to be whatever our ambitions are. My aim is to become a medical doctor.”
Though I read these words silently to myself, their impact resounded much more loudly than the chatter around me. What I heard was resilience and power – the power to turn a dream to reality.
Suddenly my phone rang. It was Mariama.
She knew, as I did, that we found a story that would anchor our Dreams to Reality issue. This quote from a story, of teen girls working together to create a new program for their school, was inspiring. Reading the article transported us from our seats – at the coffee shop in NYC and startup incubator in Washington D.C. respectively – back to Freetown, Sierra Leone; where the sun filled the sky during dry season; poda podas (mini buses) whizzed through cramped streets; and the school yard was the oasis–a place where girls have had the potential to be and do anything.
The Dreams to Reality issue would not only be a fresh start for our readers, particularly after the Ebola crisis, but also a way for us to see the impact of empowering teen girls.
Memunatu began as just an idea. As undergraduates, we knew we wanted to empower girls in our parents’ home country of Sierra Leone. While growing up we saw, in relatives and our extended community, how war, poverty, and lack of information limited girls’ ability to advance. From our trips to Sierra Leone we discovered that there are many would-be women doctors, lawyers, and bankers. Yet empty libraries, a lack of sources to inspire and motivate, and an emphasis on boys’ education, meant girls lagged behind. We created Memunatu as a media platform to bridge the information divide.
Memunatu provides girls in West Africa with content from freelance writers across the region, NGOs, and the girls themselves. This content includes tips for school, suggested reading, and ways to get involved that they can apply to their daily lives. Distributed through secondary schools with a teacher’s guide, Memunatu has the potential to provide new media for more than 11 million teenage girls across West Africa.
As we tested the magazine concept, we learned and adapted. After sending a pilot to three schools in Sierra Leone, we grew the team and gained new skills. Part of the process entailed expanding the magazine’s reach, integrating mobile SMS into our model, and adding an online magazine. Also part of the process: failing. The spread of Ebola in 2014 was a challenge. Though the epidemic was a major barrier to distribution and growth, we found that Memunatu could make an impact by sharing these girls’ stories. We found unique partnerships and joined other groups and nonprofits to collaborate. Iterating, Memunatu developed from a student startup to a social enterprise that can scale.
As we near the end of women’s history month, we are reminded of inspiring stories from women around the world. Memunatu believes girls have the capacity to be change-makers in their communities. Girls also have the inspiration to move forward.
Creating Memunatu has shown us that action is key to turning a dream to reality. The first step – daring to write down or utter a dream – transforms the dream into a goal. These dreams can seem small, like having the courage to raise your hand in class. Or they can be big, such as the goal of empowering girls across Africa. However all of them are important and it is not until you take action that the dream becomes reality.
“In the future, I would like to become a lawyer. I know it is not easy, but I have faith… all things are possible”
“I want to fight for the rights of children in this country.”
Let’s bring these powerful dreams to life.